All posts tagged publishing

  • Shorthand story: ‘The Making of England v Australia’, July 2013

    A story for Shorthand, a Brisbane-based digital technology company. Excerpt below; click the image to read the full story.

    The Making of ‘England v Australia’

    The Making of 'England v Australia' by Andrew McMillen for Shorthand, July 2013

    The first project released by Australian digital publishing company Shorthand details one of sport’s ultimate rivalries, yet ironically, it only came to fruition after partnering with an iconic British media outlet which recently launched down under. In collaboration with the Guardian Australia, ‘England v Australia’ is a long-form interactive story that traces the history of the the two countries’ ongoing contest, which spans generations, oceans and sporting codes.

    “We wanted to develop a tool that would be used by the publishing industry,” says Shorthand executive manager Ben Fogarty. “And what better way to find out what it needs to become than working with someone like the Guardian, with their experience and their approach to storytelling, news and features? It was a great opportunity to get straight into the thick of it with a very well-known, professional organisation, and see how and where Shorthand fits into that scenario.”

    The Brisbane-based start-up was founded in March 2013 in recognition of a problem that had emerged in online journalism: how could publishers tell ‘epic’ stories without the requisite eye-popping budgets, labour-intensive web development, and months of lead time?

    In short: how to craft an interactive masterpiece like ‘Snow Fall’ without breaking the bank each and every time? The start-up saw a gap in the market to provide a high-quality, affordable platform for digital storytellers. Although Shorthand’s goal was clear, the team still had many unanswered questions.

    “‘England v Australia’ helped us define our scope very well,” says Fogarty. “We had a big question around where the content was going to come from, and how digital storytelling is crafted. Do you start with media and put text around it? Do you grab text and find the media to go with it? Being part of that process from an early stage with the Guardian Australia has helped shape in our minds how to create the product features that’d work best for telling these sorts of stories for the web.”

    To read the full story – and get a better idea of the tool that the company is developing – visit Shorthand’s website.

  • The Weekend Australian book review: ‘The Boy Who Loved Apples’ by Amanda Webster, July 2012

    A book review for The Weekend Australian, published on July 28. The full review appears below.

    Why ‘Do I look fat in this?’ is not a comic question

    The eating disorder anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any mental illness: up to 20 per cent in the absence of treatment.

    I didn’t know this until I read The Boy Who Loved Apples, in which first-time author Amanda Webster takes on twin challenges: to write a confessional account of the most difficult time of her life and to educate readers about the complexities of an illness few understand intimately, especially as it applies to boys. She succeeds on both counts.

    The events Webster describes took place in 2003, when the eldest of her three children, Riche, was 11. The story is told through the rear-view mirror: in past tense and in a matter-of-fact tone that has the (perhaps unintended) side effect of unnerving the reader, especially in dramatic moments, of which there are many. It’s as if Webster, the narrator, is observing someone else live out her interactions, her mistakes, her omissions. This narrative device works well.

    The psychological reality of living with anorexia is shocking: the battle of the book’s subtitle is no overstatement. Webster describes in painful detail the relentless, punishing routine of feeding Riche protein shakes – practically his only source of nourishment for almost a year – five times a day, while responding to his tired series of calorie-conscious questions. “This won’t make me fat, will it?” asks a boy who weighs a desperately unhealthy 25kg.

    Recrimination is a consistent theme throughout this book, towards Webster’s husband, Kevin, a frequent-flying investment banker who is rarely at home during the week, and the author herself, a self-confessed “corporate wife”. It does help that Kevin is a high-income earner, as the family eventually spends more than $2000 a week to manage Riche’s illness.

    Soon after she moves from Mullumbimby in northern NSW to Brisbane to begin Riche’s treatment, Webster ransacks the bookshops for anything on eating disorders. She notes wryly that such books are shelved alongside sex guides; her own love life has been no great shakes since Riche’s diagnosis. The books solidify her belief that her son’s illness was brought on by parenting mistakes. (She’s wrong, and eventually learns that blame benefits no one.)

    Much of the narrative concerns interactions between the author and her son, though there’s also a recurring cast of doctors, psychiatrists, dieticians and support staff, as well as her two younger children and husband. This one-on-one dynamic works in favour of the story, as it highlights the truly consuming nature of the illness:

    “It was trench warfare, an endless battle with no tea breaks. If I’d thought about it before, I would have assumed anorexia popped up at mealtimes – a fight over food, and then on with the day. I didn’t realise the illness controlled every waking moment, or that it affected every aspect of life.”

    To complicate matters, it becomes clear that throughout those long, lonely months in Brisbane, the author herself is fraught with depression, anxiety and, later, post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the “skull-shattering tedium” that envelopes her life and the life of her son.

    Alcohol becomes a crutch. She fights on the phone with Kevin, whose work keeps him in Sydney, and longs for the company of her other, attention-starved children.

    Webster never normalises Riche’s behaviour: there is nothing normal about an 11-year-old attempting suicide after coming into contact with a tiny puddle of car oil (“It’s making me fat. Look how fat my arm is.”) or scraping the skin from his hands after an iced bun was eaten in the house (“I had to use my nails. I’m fat.”). Webster shifts between helpless fury towards his irrational, starved-brain behaviour and compassionate self-reminders that it’s the illness at fault.

    That the Websters survived that terrible year is remarkable, as is the frank and humane way in which the author frames the grim realities of their situation. This is an important story delivered with a fantastic eye for detail. It is, ultimately, one focused on love and sacrifice at any cost. And thankfully there is a happy – and healthy – ending.

    The Boy Who Loved Apples: A Mother’s Battle with Her Son’s Anorexia
    By Amanda Webster
    Text Publishing, 291pp, $32.99

  • A Conversation With Neil Strauss, New York Times bestselling author, 2011

    Almost two years ago, I traveled from Brisbane to Sydney to meet Neil Strauss – my favourite writer [pictured right] – for a face-to-face interview. It was a life-changing experience, and that’s no exaggeration: being in his presence solidified my decision to seriously pursue journalism. (Up until that point, I’d only dabbled; the interview was ostensibly for FourThousand.com.au, a Brisbane-focused online publication). That meeting, and our resultant conversation, is documented in full here.

    This time around, when Neil’s new book Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead – a collection of enlightening and revealing moments taken from his 3000+ interviews with cultural figures for Rolling Stone and The New York Times – appeared on Text Publishing’s Australian release schedule, I was in the position to get paid to interview my favourite writer, rather than spending a few hundred dollars on travel for the same opportunity. Which is nice.

    I interviewed Neil over the phone from his home in California for The Courier-Mail in early March 2011, before the book was released. I published a 800 word article here, which summarised our 45 minute conversation.

    Our full interview transcript is included below.

    Beware: throughout our interview, there are many references to the content of …When You’re Dead, so if you haven’t read it yet, you might want to avoid reading this interview. Maybe not.

    ++

    Firstly, I want to talk about the final chapter of the book, and the epilogue. I thought it was a very touching note to end on; it wrapped everything up nicely. It made me wonder; was that section about [American rock and folk music critic] Paul Nelson always going to close the book? [Note: Nelson died in 2006 due to apparent starvation. Strauss wrote a feature for Rolling Stone about his death, called "The Man Who Disappeared"; in When You're Dead, he says it was the hardest article he's ever had to write.]

    No. I don’t think any book is ever planned. It always sort of just happens. I guess I knew I wanted the last section to be about family and mortality, and I felt I put so much heart and time into the Paul Nelson piece, it seems like a fitting epilogue for the book. And it rolled so nicely into the actual epilogue. I knew that each section was going to have a theme, and the last section was really going to look at mortality around different angles, in a parallex way. That got more appropriate there. It just sort of landed there.

    When I’m writing, I never think in advance. I just keep hammering and hammering. They’re like puzzles. You’re putting everything together and you keep rearranging until you feel that it’s right.

    Something that Paul’s ex-wife said made me think of you, Neil. She said, “I found out more about him by reading what he wrote.” I wondered if you’d ever heard the same thing from those close to you.

    [laughs] You know what? That’s such a good comment. I’ve never heard that, but I know it’s 100% true. One hundred per cent true. There are things that I can’t tell people face-to-face, whether they’re just friends of mine, or people I love who are close to my life, yet for some reason I’m not afraid to write about them, even though I know they’ll see ‘em.

    Even the stuff in The Game, I’ve never told people because I was worried they would judge me. The stuff in Rules Of The Game, in that first story about that really, really old woman. My friends would have just ripped… it would have been publicly humiliating. But I guess I feel if I can write it I can really explain it fully, all the dimensions to it and I can make sure it’s said right, and comes out right.

    That way I can say it the best way I can possibly say it. It’s so true. It’s interesting. It might be something… I just interviewed Howard Stern for Rolling Stone, and I realised what we have in common. It’s hard sometimes to communicate the truth, as a guy like me, because it’s hard to deal with peoples’ emotions. If you say something that affects someone you have to deal with their emotional reaction to it. And maybe in a book, as horrible as this sounds, no-one is talking back to you, to that idea. No-one is saying that it’s wrong or that it hurts them, or is an unhealthy way to think, or it’s a judgmental thing to say, or whatever. It’s a semi-one-way conversation. I’m speaking to a bunch of people, but they’re sort of a faceless, invisible mob.

    I see what you mean. Most journalists I know admit to feeling guilty for drilling into peoples’ minds to make their stories public. I’d like to know your take on that.

    I never feel guilty, because I never try to hurt anybody with a story. I’ve never been a gossip reporter. I’ve never sat outside somebody’s house chasing them. Everything I’ve ever written, at least in journalism, is in the context of, you know, “I’m here to write a story, and anything you say or do can end up in that story”. So they’re making the choices. I’ve never tried to assassinate anyone. I’m always trying to show them as they are.

    Sometimes I feel guilty in the sense of after we did this interview; say I spent a long time with this musician, and I’m leaving with four hours of recordings of them spilling their soul to me, and all of a sudden it’s like, “thank you very much, good-bye”, and I’m just walking away with their soul on a tape, to some degree. They have nothing. That part always feels strange to me, like having sex with someone, then pulling out and running away.

    The fact that you’re working with ‘household names’ most of the time, does that increase the guilt, knowing that you’re exposing them even further?

    No. I would feel that with anyone. If I’d just interviewed a guy off the street for four hours, or for a day or a week, about their inner most thoughts and fears; their life, their insecurities, and their hopes and dreams and ambitions, and then I just walked away… I’d still feel horrible, because they have nothing. I’ve got this tape recorder that has everything. It’s a feeling of: I’ve taken something and I’ve walked away with it, and what do they have? Nothing.

    Even though that’s not how it works – obviously they have the promotion and the press and whatever the article is [about] – but it’s still a way where they’re bereft, and here I am with everything. You try and shape it as honestly as you can, but there’s also a trust element, where you could shape it any way you want.

    Speaking broadly, have you thought much about why people are so interested to read about the lives of famous people?

    I don’t believe that. I didn’t put the most famous people I interviewed in the book. A lot of the people I interviewed, whose heart and fame I adore, whether it’s Stevie Wonder, Iggy Pop… who I didn’t put in the book, because the interviews weren’t revelatory. I think if anything, what makes it look unique is: there are a lot of people who spend their lives interviewing famous people, but just as interesting as Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake and Bruce Springsteen are Von Lmo, and Patrick Miller, and Lucia Pamela, who probably 99.9% of readers never heard of. And yet they’re going to find those just as interesting as the big stars.

    I just think people are interesting if you get them at the right moment, you know? [laughs] I do think that on some level, celebrities are being used to sell the book, and that’s a lot of what I’ve written about, but to me the Ernie K-Doe experience – the 50s R&B star who tried to have me arrested, or again, Patrick Miller who’s smoking crack and doing heroin in his basement and fighting off hallucinations – they’re even more interesting than reading about… for example, Led Zeppelin just being assholes. [laughs]

    To talk about the book in broader terms; this book is not directly about you, it’s about revealing other people. It’s been a while since you’ve done a project like that.

    Right. But I think in a lot of ways the book is about me. I really made a conscious effort to keep myself out of it but I think between the lines, the book really is an element of my… I think each book is little elements of my autobiography. Whether it’s The Game, which covers a couple of years; Emergency covers a couple years. This, to me, is like the prequel in some ways, [laughs] because this is all I did for 20 years. This is my life for that time, and I think if you look at the pieces, you can see my own evolution as a person. Whether it’s Led Zeppelin making fun of me [for being inexperienced], to learning The Game and trying to seduce people into these interviews, to much later, meeting Lady Gaga and Chuck Berry and giving them life advice. I can see my own evolution in the book. It’s just not explicit.

    When you began putting this book together, at what point did you decide to do that concept of the threaded narratives, or ‘open loops’?

    I think what I did was, I broke down all those interviews to those little clips, and each clip was a standalone clip. Then I collected the most interesting [clips]. Some people were interesting for only one clip, for one little vignette. Other people maybe had three or four vignettes in which they were interesting. Then I sort of sequenced them together, so that everything matched together. The vignettes were really standalone stories about an idea, so I thought that it’d be nice where, “Hey, we get this idea, now here’s a couple ideas from someone else, now let’s return to a new idea for that person we just met”.

    I kind of saw each piece as almost a standalone piece. Even when they continue from scene one to scene two to scene three, sometimes the story continues. Sometimes they’re just completely separate ideas. Other times, which I kind of like, you see artists at different times in their career. Maybe a couple years later, they feel bad about what they said earlier.

    It’s interesting that a lot of the segues between the vignettes are artists mentioning other artists. That shows the breadth of the 20 years that you’ve spent doing this.

    Yeah, it’s really funny. I’d probably say, with one or two notable exceptions, almost every artist someone mentions is interviewed elsewhere in the book, so it’s like the book itself; it’s kind of a closed loop. It is funny, there really were points where Trent Reznor mentions Beck, Gwen Stefani, Marilyn Manson and Oasis and I’ve got all four of those people interviewed elsewhere in the book. It’s like: which one do I put next?

    I think there’s one section where all the artists are always talking about each other, Billy Corgan, Marilyn Manson, I think Courtney Love, Dave Navarro, And they’re all kind of referencing each other.

    You state in the intro that “you can tell a lot about a person in a minute, if you pick the right minute”. Was that always the premise of the book?

    No, the original idea was because Emergency – as you know from when we talkedEmergency was so much work. I basically had to learn how to rebuild the entirety of civilisation all by myself, you know? [laughs] It was so intense, so much work, I thought I’d give myself a break and do an anthology because anyone who’s been writing articles and features for 20 years feels like, “why not collect my favourite pieces and put them in a book?”

    I started collecting [my] pieces and reading them, but… I like telling stories. There were no through lines. I bought a bunch of anthologies from writers I liked. Half of them I didn’t finish, because I got bored. With the other half, after I was done, I was bored of the writer, and bored of the voice, because it’s not a book if it’s just articles bound together.

    Although it literally is my dream project, as for over 10 years I’d been collecting all my favourite articles in a file to put into an essay book. Then I realised it doesn’t work. Every book one does, or every film, or every record should be good enough that if anybody starts with any single one, they’ll then want to read the rest of what you’ve done. I felt if somebody read [a straight anthology] first, and it was the first book of mine [that they’d read], they might not be be intrigued enough to want to read the others.

    I wrestled with it for a while. I thought I’d write a story about being a down-and-out writer in New York, and merge some of the articles that happened during that time, and tried a couple of other formats. Gradually I realised that essentially, these articles were moments when you saw the real person behind the mask.

    I started collecting those. That two month quickie book became fuckin’ two years of intense work. Unlike Emergency, which was fun, I got to go live off in the wild and learn how to pick locks and go to junkyards and hotwire cars. The Game was fun because I got to run around the world and meet women. This time, I was stuck in a room with my own past, sorting through thousands of pages of transcriptions.

    The way I think of it, this book is the journalistic opposite of taking the easy way out. Like you said, rather than putting together your best, or favourite published work, you’ve really gone through and mined your past for the best material.

    Yeah, and it’s funny because I even had most of the interviews re-transcribed. I had somebody go back to the tapes. I said, “I want every time someone coughs, every time they paused, every time there’s an interruption, I want you to write it out like it’s a play and tell me everything going on”. Even though that’s time consuming and expensive and laborious, I was pretty adamant about getting everything from those tapes and looking for those little moments.

    I was going to ask: how much of this book existed on your hard drive already?

    I think only about 10% were on the hard drive as they were.  A lot were already transcribed, but just not well enough. Sometimes, for example, if it’s someone transcribing something, they might not take the part where the guy just asked me as an off-hand thing, “Hey, do you know now to make beans?” The truth is; the guy who’s talking about his album and why he wrote songs, it’s really more revealing to me that he asks the journalist “How do you make beans?,” because he’s trying to cook for his son. That tells me more about the person than some long story about his album. I tried to get most of them transcribed, and the only ones that didn’t were when I couldn’t find the original tapes. I literally called people who transcribed tapes 10 years ago, and had them find the tapes and bring them back to me.

    Was this the first time in your career that you’d really sat down and gone through all your old stuff?

    For sure. Absolutely.

    What were some of the personal highlights when you were going through that material?

    To me, the highlight for sure was finding all these all pitch letters I’d written to people, trying to write articles for different magazines, different newspapers; finding letters I’d written to my family about how excited I was that this article was out, because you forget how much you struggled sometimes. You forget how excited you are at those first-floor victories. That was kinda moving. It’s really easy to forget the past, because we get so caught up in the present. It was cool to see that. Everyone has a passion and a dream, and it was cool to see that I somehow was lucky enough to live that passionate dream, and even overshot, somewhat, my goal. My only goal was to write a weekly column for Village Voice. I did that by the time I was 22, so everything since then has been gravy.

    That’s awesome. Let’s talk about interviewing. What is an interview to you, now? Has it changed since you started doing interviews back then?

    No. I think I’m better at it. The interview’s still the same thing. An interview is still me trying to get as close to someone I can and write an article that somehow captures who they are, and that says something new about the person that hasn’t been written before. It’s always been the same thing, and I’ve always been really hard on myself about them. They’re never easy, and they need a lot of preparation.

    What makes a good interview?

    In the end, it’s about how you write it. I could say to me there are three kinds of good interviews. I’m just thinking of this out loud as we’re talking. One is where someone really examines themselves in a very honest way and is really emotionally vulnerable, and open, and honest with you. Another kind of good interview is where crazy shit happens, like the first time I’m going to interview Motley Crue, and the police are literally arresting Nikki and Tommy, and in the meantime Vince Neil is blow-drying his hair the whole time. That’s a great interview. They haven’t said a word, and it’s already the fucking best interview ever. The third kind is where the subject sucks, where they’ve got fucking nothing to say. They’re really closed off, not giving you anything, and then that’s an opportunity for me to be a creative writer. [laughs] One thing is the material. The other thing is what you make of it.

    I saw a recent press interview for this book, with Cleveland.com, where you told them that when you do an interview you’re petrified with fear and you’re stressed out. I’m surprised that you still feel this way, after doing it for over 20 years.

    For sure, man. My last interview was with Howard Stern… I’m definitely doing fewer and fewer [interviews] over time. I really only want to do one or two a year. But yeah, of course [I’m stressed], because you have to somehow go in, you have a limited amount of time with someone, and you have to walk away and leave with something they’ve never told to anyone else before, or at least any other writer before. That’s a lot of pressure. You’re not in control of it, they’re in control of it.

    My last interview with Howard Stern, who spills his whole life on the radio every day. How do you get that guy to say something new? There’s a burden. I think the better you get at something, the more intimidating it gets. For example, the better I got at pickup during The Game, the harder the approach was because my expectations and everyone else’s expectations were so high of me. To make the parallel, when I approached a girl in the past, if I didn’t get slapped or laughed at, it was a success. In other words, if some crazy wild adventure didn’t happen with this woman, then I failed.

    It’s the same with an interview. In the past, just to get the interview was enough. I succeeded by getting to be in the same room as this great artist who I looked up to. Now it’s not enough. I’ve got to get the best interview this person has ever given in their life. So the better you get at something, the harder and more intimidating it gets. I’m sure that’s true for you. When we had that interview before, I would say the success was fucking even getting it [in the first place].

    Definitely. I know what you mean. You said when we first met that your goal was to get the best possible material out of someone, and like you said; if it’s someone who speaks for a living it’s hard to find some new truth in that. But it’s still the goal. It’s my goal every time, regardless whether it’s a 15 minute phoner or a couple of days with someone, you still want to get the best. You want to be the best. It’s your standards you’ve got to live up to and you want to put them as high as you can.

    Yeah. And as an interviewer, you’re not in control of that. If you’re just writing an article you can make it the best if it’s all up to you, and how well you write, but in an interview you’re not in control of that. I agree.

    Is it a matter of the bigger the star you interview the more nervous you are beforehand, or is it similar across the board?

    I think it all depends on the situation. I’m more nervous if the star has only given us one hour in a room together. Unless I’m going to be going on tour with them for a week because I know I’ll get time to get what I need. I guess it’s not how famous they are, it’s how short of a time I have to get to connect with them.

    When we first met, I think the first thing you told me when you walked over and looked at my sheet of paper, was: “Ready for all 15 questions,” and then you said what you do to prepare for an interview is brainwash yourself with the person’s career and write down every single question that comes to mind. Now besides those two elements, researching and writing down questions, is there something more? Is there a routine to preparing for interviews beyond just research?

    I think it’s kind of what I said before, that brainwashing which is reading all the books, reading every article about them, reading any books if they’ve written any, listening to every album, watching every movie they’re in, and then as I’m doing these things writing down every question that I can possibly ever thing of. Then studying those questions and arranging those questions in a sequence I kind of want to ask them, and then studying those questions like I’m preparing for an exam, where I don’t know what the questions are going to be on the test. [laughs] There’s a lot of big interviews I turned down, because I really didn’t want to get that deep. I wasn’t that interested enough in the artist to get that deep in their life, and their work.

    When you’re meeting face-to-face with your subjects, do you pick clothes to make you appear a certain way?

    No, in fact I’ll usually dress more down than I would if I was going out myself because I want them to know they’re they star, I’m not trying to say… I think if someone walked into the interview saying “hey, we’re equals! Hey, look at me, I’m one of you too!” the star’s already like “no you’re not.” [laughs] So if anything, I try to play myself down. Even the Howard Stern interview I did today ended up on the air and it’s on TV and you see it, I’m dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans. I really try to be like, “you’re the star. I’m not going to be so embarrassing you can’t be seen with me, but I’m not going to be dressed like I think I’m a star too”. I think that’s the wrong attitude to go into an interview with. In fact, going into any situation whether it’s pickup, survival, or an interview trying to impress someone is the exact wrong attitude to have.

    The way you say that makes me think that you’ve made that mistake in the past and you learned not to act that way. Is that correct?

    No, I never did because when I started out, I really was super, super humbled by these amazing people I got to be in the same room with. And I really was kind of young and innocent. I did it before, but it wasn’t a mistake, when I did that Ludacris interview. There was an idea that we had the ‘Ho’lympics’, a contest where it was me against Ludacris doing all these crazy things, like the one-hand bra unhooking contest. I brought one of my peacocking outfits from The Game, like this snakeskin suit. It was funny. He loved it. He thought it was fucking hilarious. It hasn’t been a mistake when I’ve done it in the past and I think it’s less about dress and more about attitude. But I know my place, I know the role. They’re the star and I’m the person who’s translating that message to the world.

    Out of interest, Neil, do you have a musical background?

    No, I can play a little bit of music and I’ve even been in bands and stuff, but my goal was never to be a musician. If anything, if I was to end up anywhere in the musical side of things it would have been as a producer, because I think in a way it’s similar to being a critic. There’s a sense of saying “what can we do?”. It’s being a critic, but earlier on in the process, where you can actually have some effect on the music.

    True, I see that. The reason I asked is: that bit of musical knowledge that you have beyond being a critic – you actually know how to play some music – do you think that’s been advantageous for you to help relate to musicians?

    Not always. Sometimes it’s been fun, because I did piece on this band Sebadoh, and we went and recorded a punk rock single together. There were a lot of cool things that didn’t make it in the book, but I had to select what was most interesting. But [musical knowledge] has helped in a couple of cases. I also find that musical dialogue won’t be interesting to the general audience of Rolling Stone or The New York Times. If I wrote for Musician or Guitar World it would, but I think that would have hurt the interviews. Because maybe [the interview subject and I] would have bonded over it, but it’s not going to create any kind of dialogue that’s going to be appropriate for that kind of article.

    I think there might be an element, too, of if you cover musicians, then I think you need to come in as a journalist, and not as a fellow musician. To me, the best asset one has in an interview is curiosity. It’s better than an outfit; better than musical knowledge. And even having brushed up and having prepared, I think genuine, sincere curiosity is the best tool you have.

    I find that simply listening and responding to a person is just as important as background research. A good example of that in the book – of you just listening and going with the flow – is when you tell Britney Spears that you know exactly what she’s talking about, even though you have no idea.

    [laughs] Yeah, exactly. I think there are a lot of points in a lot of interviews where you’re saying ‘yes’. We’re agreeing just so you don’t stop the roll they’re on. I think there’s definitely some crazy things I’ve fucking agreed with in interviews. I think it’s important not to judge the person in an interview, and not to judge whether they’re right or wrong, or if it makes sense. The job is to let them speak. Often, some of them I don’t even know… it isn’t until I look at the transcripts that I know what someone was really saying, or trying to say, because I can slow it down.

    To talk about some more specific sections of the book, my favourite band of all time is Led Zeppelin, so I thoroughly enjoyed that section. [Neil interviewed Jimmy Page and Robert Plant for The New York Times. It was their first interview together since Zeppelin broke up 14 years earlier.]

    That’s awesome.

    I want to know what was going through your mind when you discovered that you hadn’t recorded those first 40 minutes of your interview.

    One, was that I was so fucking mad at myself. There are two interviews… I also love Ray Davies of The Kinks, and I missed that interview, too. I was just furious. After that, I started bringing two tape recorders to every interview and I’d have them recorded on two audio recorders just in case one failed, or goes wrong. I was thinking: “how do I re-ask these same questions and get those answers without them catching on?”

    The other funny thing about that interview was that I was so young, and they were these icons. I think I’d read [Zeppelin biography] Hammer of the Gods and was obsessed about their… I was a guy who’d maybe slept with one or two women my whole life, so I think I was more obsessed with their sex life than their music. [laughs] And I wanted to know the story. I think at one point Jimmy Page asked me, “Do you have any questions that don’t involve sex?” [laughs] To me, they were legends not just for their music, but the lifestyle around it.

    That bit about how you missed the first 40 minutes, it’s funny because it’s such a rookie error, and yet it was one of your first assignments for The New York Times.

    Yeah! And that happens. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. There are so many things that could go wrong, especially with cassette decks. You can plug the microphone in the headphone jack, the batteries can die in the middle of the interview and you don’t notice it. The pause button can be on, and you’re recording. I think every one of these errors has happened to me, and that’s my biggest paranoia. I’m almost OCD about checking to make sure that it’s recording. Especially now, I get really paranoid with digital recorders because after you stop it, it has to store the information after you stop it, and what if it doesn’t store… I get so paranoid, man, because you can’t recreate what just happened.

    That’s true. But you’ve got to have faith in technology, Neil.

    You can have faith in technology, but if it goes wrong… like, you don’t know what’s left on your computer if it shuts down, and you lose your work.

    I see where you’re coming from. I’ll remain blissfully naïve until that happens to me.

    You can have faith in technology, and technology has things that are operated on electricity. Batteries can die. You can be working there and the power can go; anything can happen, especially when one has more faith in technology than one has in one’s self. One can rely on one’s self, you can’t rely on technology.

    Some of my favourite parts in the book were when you revealed part of yourself, like right near the start when you’re talking with Madonna about drugs. You said that you didn’t like pills because “it’s a control thing”, and by making a statement and not asking a question, you encouraged her to go off on her little tangent about how she feels about that, which is an interesting tactic.

    I do find that… I put those parts in this book less, but I’ll tell you something interesting, which is that as I was compiling the book, I was going back through a lot of parts in the book. You have to give a little to get something, so the parts of Madonna in the book – I saved these. I’ve got about 100 pages of it, I kind of collected my own personal biography through these interviews with these artists because at some point I’m telling them about my life. I’m telling Bruce Springsteen about how I got a job at The New York Times. I’m telling Lady Gaga about how I came to write The Game. I’m telling Tom Cruise about, I think about The Game also. I’m talking to Christine Aguilera about my childhood. I collected those parts of the interviews because I thought it would be fun if I ever do a straight-up biography, to mix in those interviews.

    I was impressed by a few sections where you revealed your ability to form a bond with some of your subjects, like Shawn [Crahan] from Slipknot, and Chuck Berry.

    Going back to what you were saying before, I do think I was very conscious to leave myself out of this as much as possible because I felt like you can see the book is showing who these other people are, and the less I’m in it, the better. In all my books, even though I might be a central character in The Game and Emergency, I still tried to put myself in as little, only in there as much as necessary to understand the subject being written about. I’m not in The Game and Emergency, I’m not giving my whole biography. I think I did the same thing in here, I just tried to give myself as little as possible, as was necessary to get to know the subject. But you like when those special bonds happen, you were saying?

    Yeah, it’s cool, because the only time that most fans see these musicians is when they’re performing on stage, or in a music video, or they’re being interviewed on TV. But when you break outside of that… like how Shawn from Slipknot took the second cup from the top of a cup pyramid; this tiny little detail tells you a lot about a person.

    Yeah, and I loved that. That’s one of my favourite things about this [book] is when you come back and check in with someone later and see how they’ve grown, how they’ve changed, how maybe they take back what they said then, whether they’re sober or whether they’re on drugs. Whether they’re talking rehab speak – it’s a really cool barometer of watching someone grow in these little snapshots. They tell you about your own life too, because you can see how you’ve changed in those interviews as well.

    But my favourite time to talk to artists is when they’re in the creative process, versus when they’re in the promotional process. I love talking to them when they’re in the midst of creation because then they’re really wrestling, they’re really raw. When you get them in the promotion process, they’re closed.

    I think an example in the book was Trent Reznor; you made that comment about how he was unpacking a videogamesconsoles, which would be upsetting to his listeners, because he’s obviously procrastinating, and not creating music.

    Yeah. And I loved that interview, because it was so honest.

    The idea of revealing a bit of yourself to the reader, there was a bit more of that when you asked Brian Wilson whether he’s a nervous person. Then you went on to state that having a very domineering, critical father can make people nervous and hesitant later in life, which I believe is a reflection of your own life.

    It wasn’t that case, I think it was just from observation. I do have critical parents, probably more so on my mother’s side, but I think that was more like a general observation from a number of interviews, [as opposed to] saying that about myself. Though of course in interviews, I will often talk about myself. Again, I think if someone tries to suck all the information out, you’re kind of an asshole if you’re out to do that. There should be reciprocity. But I definitely wasn’t referring to myself in that case. Though now that you mention it, I definitely grew up in a household where nothing was ever good enough, and that definitely probably did contribute to the hesitancy and lack of confidence later in life, for sure.

    After The Game came out and you started to get noticed, were there many instances during interviews of your reputation preceding you? Were some of your subjects were already aware of your work, even beyond music journalism?

    Yeah, and it usually helped if they were aware of my work. I think it’s definitely true, versus some random name coming in to interview them, or a guy whose stories they’ve read in Rolling Stone. If they’ve sat there with a book, and read a book. It definitely helped.

    Are you concerned that journalists like myself are going to read the book and steal your best material?

    No, because that material is already out there. I mean, to me it’s like if somebody steals it… I’m scared until it’s out, like before I put the book out, I’m scared someone else is going to do an anthology like this, when it hasn’t been done before, and some other journalist is going to think about creating something like this. But once it’s out, I look forward to people… let’s not say stealing, but being inspired by it. [laughs] I think that’s the most awesome thing ever. If someone likes it enough to do something similar or use that material in their own way, that’s cool. Otherwise you’d never do anything, because otherwise you’d just be frozen.

    There were two questions you asked in the book that totally blew me away, because I would never even have considered asking them. Do you want to know what they are?

    Yeah, go ahead. Wait, I know your first one’s going to be: “could you made the best album ever, then bury it and never listen to it, but still be content?”

    Yeah, that’s one.

    And is the other one about “what’s more important, music or children”?

    No.

    I liked that one. “What’s the thing you felt you’ve given to the world most, music or children? What’s benefitted the world more?”

    The other one was what you asked [the rapper] The Game – “what was the first money you ever made?” It’s such a simple question, but his answer reveals so much about him.

    Oh yeah, “the first money I made wasn’t made, it was stolen”. [laughs] I don’t have stock questions I ask everybody. I really should have a list of questions I ask everybody, but I don’t.  I usually ask that if I’m curious about it for that particular person. There are a couple that have been themes in my life because I’m always curious about family, and curious about artistic stuff.

    So, my last question: have you sent this book out to any of the people who you interviewed?

    Umm… no. [laughs]

    Are you intending to?

    No, I’m not planning to. I’ll just think I’ll let them find it. I don’t know why. It seems to me something where… for some reason, it seems boastful to send it to them. I don’t know why. I probably should. I think that would be a good idea to do. Even, like, Russell Brand, who I’m friends with, he told me I was in his book, and I didn’t tell him he was in my book. So I should probably do that.

    Totally. Alright Neil, I’ll leave it there.

    I look forward to catching up with you at a more calm point, and seeing you when I’m in Australia.

    For sure man. Thanks for your time.

    Thanks man. It’s been fun watching your evolution. Bye Andrew.

    ++

    For more Neil Strauss, visit his website or follow him or Twitter.

  • The Weekend Australian story: ‘Tales Of The City’, August 2010

    A story for The Weekend Australian’s Review: a profile of Brisbane author and journalist Matthew Condon [pictured below], framed around his latest book, Brisbane. An excerpt from the published story is below.

    Brisbane author and journalist Matthew CondonTales of the City

    by Andrew McMillen

    Matthew Condon’s literary ‘love letter’ to Brisbane is set to reignite debate about the Queensland capital’s historical origins.

    HOW does one write a book that captures a whole city? This is the question that confronted Queensland writer Matthew Condon, who describes the opportunity to write Brisbane, the second book in publisher NewSouth’s series devoted to Australian capital cities, as the “singular most simplistic, liberating brief that I’ve ever received”.

    Commissioning editor Philippa McGuinness told Condon to approach the book any way he wished, “which on the one hand is brilliant”, says the author, “but on the other, when you come down to writing [it], trying to put your arms around an entire city, it was very difficult. I deliberated for months and months: how do you go about it? Then I decided that it really is impossible to do it thoroughly. It would be endless. The city is organic. It’s constantly shifting and changing. So I had to give myself limitations.”

    Eventually, Condon decided to ground his book in an examination of the location where explorer John Oxley first landed on the Brisbane River in 1824. “I decided, ‘Look, I’m going to go to where X marks the spot, where Oxley came ashore. That’s the Caucasian history of the city. I’ll start there, and I’ll see where it takes me’.” Notebook and camera in hand, the author visited the granite monument. Located at North Quay, which was erected to celebrate the centenary of Oxley’s landing, he says “it’s possibly the most unimaginative foundation stone of any city in the Western world . . . I stood there with the traffic roaring on both sides, and something about it struck me as wrong.”

    Full story available on The Australian’s website.

    If you have any interest in the story behind the Queensland capital, I highly recommend checking out Condon’s Brisbane.

    This was a particularly enjoyable feature to write, as Matthew is one of my favourite feature writers – I hold his work for The Courier-Mail’s QWeekend magazine in high regard.

  • The Big Issue story: ‘Changing Resolution’, May 2010

    A story for The Big Issue #355 about Brisbane-based publisher Interactive Publications and one of its young authors, Josh Donellan.

    Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    The Big Issue story: 'Changing Resolution', featuring Interactive Publications and Josh Donellan

    Changing Resolution

    Brisbane-based publisher Interactive Publications has leapt aboard the digital revolution – to find a world wide web of opportunities stretching far beyond the printed page.

    David Reiter is well aware that his industry is in flux. The director of a Brisbane-based independent publishing company, Interactive Publications (IP), is referring to the book industry’s transition from print to electronic publishing – and with the Australian launch of the iPad imminent, discussion on this topic has reached fever pitch.

    Publishers’ attitudes are split between those praying that consumers’ love for the physical book will endure, and those embracing the electronic format as a more profitable, and arguably more environmentally friendly, medium. (Something covered at length in the cover story of our Ed#352, ‘Read All About It’.)

    David Reiter of Interactive PublicationsWhile still valuing conventional books, Reiter [pictured right] believes publishers need to embrace emerging digital technology. In his mind, the biggest problems facing Australian independent publishers are market access and international promotion. Yet, he argues, these concerns are largely side-stepped through digital media. “We’ve have been able to bypass some of the traditional channels – overseas agents, overseas distributors, selling rights to overseas publishers – by having a significant online presence.”

    Reiter estimates it will take just “six to eight years” for digital sales to catch up with those of traditional books – and that’s being conservative. Overseas, digital publications already comprise 15–20% of the market. “When you consider the volume of titles being published these days, it’s actually a phenomenal growth figure relative to print books,” Reiter says.

    His company’s first major digital title came out in 2000; digital sales now account for approximately 5–10% of their total. “That’s not a remarkably low amount, given what’s happening elsewhere,” Reiter says. “I think that even the major publishers are in that situation at this point.”

    IP also recently launched the Digital Publishing Centre, as a one-stop-shop for businesses, or individuals, interested in going digital. Manuscripts that are run through the centre are assessed and edited, then mastered for print-on-demand formats, as well as e-books.

    But Reiter acknowledges that e-readers remain a rare commodity in 2010 – and, despite the availability of the Kindle and the coming of the iPad, he is wary of the assumption that people will start buying e-books in vast quantities. “I still talk to younger people, in their twenties and thirties, who trot out the view that ‘I love my book, my regular book and I’m not too keen about reading on screen’.”

    And, Reiter says, publishers could be an even harder nut to crack than the readers. This, he argues, is “because many of the big publishers in Australia are tied to the apron strings of multinationals. Even if they wanted to change, they couldn’t, because they have to get approval from head-office overseas.”

    But, he continues, “It’s good news for us because we’ve been leading the pack; we’ve been able to put some distance between us and the mainstream publishers who still seem to be sitting in the corner, twiddling their thumbs while all of this is happening, wondering what they need to do.”

    Josh Donellan, author of A Beginner’s Guide to Dying in IndiaDespite their significant investment in digital media, IP haven’t abandoned the traditional format. One of the publisher’s most recent print edition books is A Beginner’s Guide to Dying in India. Reiter discovered its author, Josh Donellan [pictured left], after the Brisbane local entered IP Picks – the company’s annual national writing competition for unpublished manuscripts – in 2009. Donellan was given the nod for Best Fiction, which led to the offer of a publishing contract.

    A Beginner’s Guide opens with a bang: its protagonist, Levi, watches his house and all of his possessions going up in smoke. Earlier that morning, he’d been fired from his job. Racing to seek comfort from his fiancée, Levi discovers that she’s leaving the country to become a nun – and all this happens within the first six pages. Emotionally drained, Levi flies to India, where he’s greeted by his older brother, who’s in the midst of planning for his last-ever farewell party (read: funeral).

    The novel – which features a devilish sense of humour, well-formed characters and whip-smart pop culture references – has found a strong audience among young adults, almost selling out of its first print run. But the book is also one of IP’s strongest sellers in the digital realm. It is available for Kindle on Amazon.com. And readers can buy a copy through ‘print on demand’ – which is the sort of technology that, for a young Australian author like D0nellan, offers exciting prospects for overseas sales. With this format a reader in, say, New York could order a freshly printed copy of Donellan’s book in just a few days – rather than waiting weeks and paying costly international delivery fees.

    The Big Issue, #355: Heroes and VillainsThat’s all well and good. But, as Donellan himself argues, in all this talk about print versus digital, the most fundamental element of book publishing seems to be missing. “I think there’s a danger that sometimes the focus on the packaging outweighs the matter itself,” says Donellan. “I think [digital publishing is] an important change, but it still really matters how good the material is.”

    by Andrew McMillen

    A Beginner’s Guide To Dying In India is available now – in print and digital formats.

    Learn more about Interactive Publications at ipoz.biz, and click here to visit the homepage for Josh Donellan’s book, A Beginner’s Guide To Dying In India. I don’t read much fiction, but I enjoyed the hell out of this story and would recommend it to anyone.

  • A Conversation With Neil Strauss, New York Times Bestselling Author, 2009

    Neil Strauss and his entourage. I wonder what the kneeling girl is up to.It’s June 23, 2009. Minutes away from meeting Neil Strauss, I catch myself being self-conscious. I realise that when I sit, my jeans reveal my red-and-white striped socks above my white basketball shoes, which were hastily pulled on before a flight from Brisbane to Sydney earlier that day. Shit. What will Neil think?

    I can see him in the opposite corner of the Sofitel Hotel’s lobby, closing an interview with another young, starry-eyed guy, and chatting with his publicist. I change sitting positions a couple times to try and find the optimum spot that’ll make me look relaxed and in control. I want to exhibit both of these traits before Strauss, one of my favourite writers, because I want this to be perfect.

    As I walk toward them, the publicist turns and says, “you must be Andrew”. We shake hands, and Neil offers his. “Hey Andrew, what’s up man?” he asks warmly. They’re finalising his plans for tonight; an opportunity to watch a taping of The Chaser’s War On Everything seems to be on the cards. Neil turns to the otherwise empty lobby antechamber and asks me to pick a comfortable seat for our interview. I select a window seat, and run my eyes across the page of questions written in my notebook.

    I don’t admit that I was self-consciously readying myself just moments earlier. I don’t describe to him the trepidation I feel as a fan almost half his age, speaking to my favourite writer. The one who wholly shared his personal demons and sexual exploits in the 2005 book The Game: Penetrating The Secret Society Of Pick-Up Artists; an autobiographical account of the two years that Strauss spent investigating the lives of men devoted to improving themselves by attracting women.

    As I ponder, Neil bounds over and sneaks a look at the page.

    Neil: Ready for all fifteen questions!

    Andrew: I think fifteen’s a good number. Or is it too many, or too few?

    Here’s what I do. I write out like a hundred questions, even though I rarely get to ask them all. I write them out, while researching and studying them beforehand, and then just have a conversation. And if the conversation stalls, I turn to a prepared question.

    But that’s just the way I do it. I don’t know if it’s the best way; no-one ever told me!

    So I really enjoyed Emergency [his 2009 book on survivalist preparedness]. What did you set out to achieve with the book?

    Note: book may not actually save your life.The main thing was to write an interesting, hopefully somewhat humourous story. But what I set out to achieve is always different to what I achieve. I originally set out to write a book that would influence the (2008) American election, so that a Bush-like type of person didn’t win the election. So the original goal was to look at the country and ask, “Why isn’t anybody having a revolution?” That’s even almost how I pitched it. And they let me do the book like that in the first place – “okay, go do your fun little pet project, and then give us a real book” – and then it just turned into this whole other thing about self-sufficiency and learning to be independent of the system.

    Did you come across that accidently?

    My favourite composer is John Cage, and his credo is “be open to whatever comes next”, and I think that’s it. You start with one idea in mind, but you have to be willing to go further. Like when I did the Marilyn Manson article for Rolling Stone, I planned to tear him apart, because I didn’t like him. And when I met him, I liked him, and it turned out to be a positive article. The first book I wrote was with him, and if I hadn’t challenged my preconception, maybe I wouldn’t have started my career writing books.

    So the original thing was to activate and politicise apathetic Americans, but then I realised that the whole idea of voting for a person is a pretty pathetic way of empowerment. One person isn’t really doing that fucking much. It’s like that lyric – “meet the old boss; same as the new boss” [The Who's 'Won't Get Fooled Again'], you know. And even though there are major differences, I realised that it’s more about one’s own self, and not entrusting your safety to someone else. To become self-sufficient, and not depend on the system so much. The way you leave home when you’re a child, and eventually have to leave your parents and become an adult, in the same way you have to eventually step outside the normal political system.

    Was one of your goals to encourage others to become self-sufficient, as opposed to living a life of convenience, which you describe at the beginning of the book?

    Yeah. It’s also to wake up from some of the delusions you were taught as a child, from the history books and in class. And to do whatever it takes to give yourself peace of mind. The other thing is to – rather than having these anxieties and fears – take them to the extreme and get rid of them. In that way, one of my aims for the book was basically generational Prozac (laughs).

    The economy’s falling apart around you; people are freaking out over these pandemics; terrorism alerts are always in a shade of orange or red.. so, you know, learning what this stuff is and what it means, and how to protect yourself. That was my Prozac for this generation’s panic attack.

    How soon did you finish the book before it was published? There’s some stuff near the end that’s pretty recent.

    Strauss: shadowed skull indentsI literally finished it in February, and it came out in March. That’s the cool thing about publishing, and why I love writing versus movies or TV, because you can literally get it from your pen to the reader so soon. And I’m lucky enough that my publisher’s pretty cool, and they can turn it around (quickly). I think if it came out now, it’d be a slightly different time.

    I’m really interested with what you’re doing with your publishing company, Igniter.

    Thanks for asking about that! I’m fucking stoked that you asked me about that.

    How did that idea come about with [fellow Rolling Stone writer] Anthony Bozza?

    We were on Tommy Lee’s tour bus. He’d just written the Tommy Lee book, and I’d written the Mötley Crüe book [The Dirt: Confessions Of The World's Most Notorious Rock Band]. And we started talking, and exchanging notes, and found that the same people had been approaching us about books. We both got approached by Slash to do a book, and Axl Rose. Over the course of that night, three different people approached both of us about writing their books. And we were like, “fuck, this is weird!” Every now and then, there’d be a good one that we didn’t have time to do.

    So when someone came to us with a good book that they wanted written, we’d pass them onto agents and publishers and it’d never get made. It couldn’t get through the (publishers’) doors. So we just thought “fuck it, let’s put these books out ourselves.”

    Why do you think that they couldn’t get published? What was stopping these projects – the idea of working with unknown, unpublished authors?

    Yeah, unknown authors, and that most people don’t trust their taste. The phenomenon of social proof – no one thinks something is good, unless other people tell them it’s good beforehand.

    I was going to ask you about social proof, because you’re now, what, a six times New York Times bestselling author? That’s a pretty massive social proof there.

    Yeah, exactly.

    So with you and Anthony behind Igniter, do you think that your names will hold sway in the publishing community?

    That’s our hope, that we can get people to read good books. And also, we don’t want to deal with agents. If an agent has a book, he’s already shopping it to every publisher. We want to go find raw talent. I’ll give you an example: in our first book, which is out this fall…

    Is that the book on the mafia guy?

    No, the first one is on Bozo The Clown.

    Ah, I know you’re a big fan of his.

    Exactly. So you’re on my mailing list, I take it, since you knew about the mobster book?

    Yeah.

    Amber Smith: massive stalker. Be careful.When I did the writing contest, for the mobster book, there were three guys who got through to the final. The mobster chose a different guy to the winner of the public vote, who was Ian Kelk. He’s an unemployed computer programmer. So Ian didn’t get to do the mobster book, but I said to him “listen, I’m going to find writing work for you.” And so a few weeks ago, Amber Smith [pictured left], who’s this gorgeous supermodel – she’s been on the cover of Vogue, Playboy, FHM, and also now has a reality show – she wanted to do a book. Her story is insane: she’s a supermodel, but she’s only been in two relationships for like three months each, and afterwards she stalked the guys for like ten years. It’s awesome – she’s one of the most beautiful women in the world, yet she stalks guys and they run away from her! (laughs)

    So I called up Ian, and said “why don’t you phone her, see if you guys get along, then come down and work on her book.” So this guy who applied for my writing contest – an unemployed computer programmer – is now hanging out with, and writing a book for a supermodel. That’s the kind of stuff that we like making happen.

    So Igniter’s goal is to get unknown writers published?

    It’s just to get good books published. It could be a known or an unknown writer, it just has to be good. But I’m more excited about someone, maybe, who.. like when I wrote for the New York Times, there were certain bands that I was one of the first to write about, like Elliott Smith, or Built To Spill, or Ryan Adams. There were artists I’d find and write about, and then the world would embrace that person, and I could be like “cool, I hope I helped in some way”.

    That’s the kind of feeling (of talent discovery) that we’re looking to replicate with Igniter.

    It’s interesting how certain writers can hold that kind of control, or influence, over popular culture.

    In my case, The New York Times was a good platform because it reaches a billion people. And they’ll let you do.. do you know who Robert Randolph is?

    No.

    In other words, I could say to my editors, “man, there’s this guy who performs pedal steel music in churches, it’s an old church tradition, and people just fucking dance on the rafters and it gets crazy.” I did a story on him, and now he’s huge. He plays at Bonnaroo and all those kinds of festivals. And they put it on the front page of the Arts section, so it was cool to have a platform like that for people be able to listen to.

    As well artists you liked, were you pressured by the Times to write about artists that you didn’t like?

    Kenny G: everything I know about him is from that South Park episodeAll the time, but I could choose how I wrote about them. For example, I had to write about [the saxophonist] Kenny G [pictured right]. I thought, “well, I could write the normal fucking shit about Kenny G – he’s too easy to make fun of”. But then I found out that he was a pilot. So I thought, “why don’t I have Kenny G pick me up in a plane, then we’ll go fly somewhere, then have dinner together, and we’ll talk.”

    So I did that and I realised that I’d developed a respect for Kenny G, because he’s a guy who plays what he feels. And what he feels just happens to be very simple, and sweet. He’s just a simple, sweet guy playing simple sweet music, and he’s playing what he feels. He’s not like, you know, [jazz musician] Sun Ra. I have respect for Kenny G’s integrity, and I’m glad that I met him, because it would have been too easy to make fun of him.

    You seem to have preconceptions of artists and people before you meet them. Have you tried to stop having those preconceptions?

    I think it’s okay to have preconceptions, but you have to be willing to discard them in the face of the truth. I only think they’re bad when you stick to them, regardless; that’s just dogmatic thinking. It’s impossible to learn if you don’t listen.

    What preconceptions do you think that people have of you, based on your experiences in The Game?

    Generally when I walk into an interview, they definitely expect to see some arrogant fuck. You know, some arrogant, shallow fuck. And that’s fine, because people who think that generally haven’t read the book. They think it’s some lad’s manual, and that there’s a guy out there acting like that guy from Magnolia, screaming “respect the cock!” at guys. It’s fine for people to have preconceptions about me, because I usually am not like the preconception, and they’re thrown off.

    I lent The Game to a bunch of my friends, and the ones who read it loved it. But the ones who didn’t pick it up had that preconception of it being a guide for guys to get laid. They find something morally wrong in the idea of a book teaching something that should be inherently known.

    It’s the weirdest book, because the people who’ve read it know what it is, but those who haven’t don’t get it. I think the book is like that – you expect it to be one thing, but it turns out as something else. Like how it begins with the greatest pickup artist in the world about to kill himself. And while reading, you think “okay, maybe this isn’t going to be like what I had in mind”. And I think with all my books, I try to give the audience what they wouldn’t expect. Like with the Jenna Jameson book [How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale], you know it’s going to deal with sex and porn, so I started it off somewhere really dark.

    When did you realise that you had a book on your hands with Emergency?

    It was originally just going to be a story about getting the St Kitts passport, and that was it. The original pitch was just ‘escaping America’ (laughs). And then I went to Tom Brown’s Tracker School, and I called my editor and said “listen man, I need like, another year!” I realised that I had so much to learn; I had to learn how to be human all over again. And he was cool enough to be okay with it. I still remember that cell phone call to my editor from Tracker School.

    I guess that’s before you dropped your Blackberry in the water?

    Exactly! (laughs)

    You mentioned your parents throughout the book, and that they’d always lived a ‘life of convenience’ in the city. Have their views changed since they read the book?

    Neil Strauss: look how trustworthy he is!It’s funny, because I went to visit them, and I was doing a radio interview from the back of their car, and the interviewer asked what my parents feel about the book. I was like, “I don’t know, ask them!”. And they said, on air, that they wished they got the St Kitts passport with me, now.

    It’s funny, that always happens with everything I do. When I’m doing it, all my friends and family make fun of me, but once it’s done, they’re like “oh, I should have done that”. Whether it’s The Game, and learning to be more attractive to women, or Emergency, and the need to be safe and self-sufficient.

    What do your parents think of your evolution as a writer, from starting with places like Ear and Village Voice, to writing New York Times bestsellers?

    Man, you want to know something hilarious? My next book’s probably going to be an anthology of articles I’ve written for Rolling Stone and stuff, and my parents just sent me a book proposal letter I wrote when I was eleven years old. It’s the fucking funniest thing!

    In it, I’m like: “Dear publisher, this is my book. Please send a printed copy, and all money to..”, and I gave my address. And the grammar is really good, it’s just weird to read that I was sending out book proposals at age eleven.

    What was the book proposal?

    It was a series of fictional mystery novels. “The Smith Mysteries“.

    Did you end up writing them?

    I wrote the first book, and I think my parents attached it to the letter they sent. I can’t wait to read it again, it’ll be fucking weird.

    Dude, eleven?!

    Yeah, I know. But my parents were always against me becoming a writer; they actually cut me off when I was writing for Ear Magazine and stuff. I had to support myself, because they really wanted me to study business, and do what they felt was safe. Ironic how business is the least safe thing to do right now! It’s much safer to be writing.

    But eventually, once I was at The New York Times.. they were always a little hard [on me], but I think it drove me to excel more. Like when the Marilyn Manson book [The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell] reached the New York Times Bestseller list, they told me, “well, it’s awesome that you’ve been on the list for one week, but it doesn’t really count unless it’s for two weeks”.

    Damn, they’ve got high standards!

    Yeah, and that’s why in Rules Of The Game, the book is dedicated to “Your parents. You may be upset with them for what’s wrong with you, but don’t forget to give them credit for what’s right”. So I can’t really blame them for shit, because I feel that I’m happy with stuff I’ve done, and I feel that they gave me everything I needed to succeed.

    How do you feel that the experiences in The Game and Emergency have shaped how you view yourself?

    The Game: one of my favourite book designsThey’re completely different. With The Game – even separate from the book – I always think about how if I’d never come across this underground group of guys, I always would have lived my life in the dark, and died never having emerged from my little shell. Like, there are good things and bad things about The Game, and I thought I’d neither attack nor defend it, but when I do interviews, I will defend guys’ right to learn it. The right that guys should be able to learn those skills if they want to. Because I think “fuck, if I’d never learned it, I would have just lived my life with blinders on”, not knowing who I could be, or the experiences I could have.

    Even if the book never came out, I’m so grateful for those experiences. It’s just weird, I was just a completely different person [beforehand], and I just wasn’t me. I was just so intimidated, and shy about everything.

    But after going through your experiences and sharing them, you’ve allowed how many thousand people to improve themselves?

    Yeah, it’s pretty fucking weird. Because I didn’t know that the book would have that effect, and I think if I was trying for that effect, I probably wouldn’t have had it, because I would have tried too hard.

    You share a lot of yourself and your experiences through your writing. Did that come easily, or did you hesitate?

    No, I had to do it. When I did those books with celebrities, I had a rule, which is you have to tell the whole truth; you can’t hold anything back. You’d have to be willing to make yourself look bad, if that’s how it happened. I hold myself to the same standards I held those other people to. I couldn’t be hypocritical about it.

    With The Game, many times I considered doing it under another name. My alias was ‘Chris Powles’. I used ‘Style’ online, but if I needed to use my real name, most of the time I was ‘Chris’. I thought I’d write the book under that person’s name, and pretend it was another book I had ghost written for somebody else, like what I’ve done using my real name in the past. I thought many times about not doing it, and then I thought, “If you’re not willing to put your name on what you did, then why did you do it?”

    You mentioned at the start of Emergency that when you were researching those crazy groups around the year 2000 that you were a bad reporter because you got nervous talking with people. That’s not still the case, is it?

    I still feel like a horrible reporter. My last two interviews were with Jay Leno and [comedy film director] Judd Apatow for Rolling Stone. I still feel like, “Oh shit, I didn’t ask the hard questions.” I still leave every interview feeling like I didn’t get all the stuff.

    If I do an article for Rolling Stone, I feel like it’s got to be the best article and that I’ve got to get the most out of the person. I always just leave feeling I should have asked them harder questions, or been tougher, or I don’t know what. But then I listen to the interview afterward, and I actually end up getting good stuff, so I don’t know.

    Even after your hundred questions, you still feel like your hundred and first would have been the best.

    Yeah, exactly, like I missed something or I didn’t explore something with them or didn’t dig in deep enough or didn’t have enough rapport with them, or whatever.

    How do you prepare for an interview?

    I just make myself an expert on them. I brainwash myself. If it’s music or movies, I listen to every album, watch every movie, read every interview, and write down every possible question I could ever think of. So I brainwash myself with their lives. (laughs)

    How does that compare to being interviewed? Do you prepare for things like this?

    Talking about a book is different than writing it, so before each book comes out I’ll think about how would I describe this thing I went through and summarize it. Sometimes, I come to realizations I didn’t have in the book. People ask me about The Game and Emergency. I don’t friggin’ know. I just wrote this book and that book. If I think about them, it’s “Well, both books are really about fear.” The Game is about fear of approaching women, getting rejected, social humiliation, let’s say. Emergency is about fear of dying. Both are about ways to conquer your fear through knowledge and experience.

    So you’ve been a journalist, biographer, and an autobiographer. Which do you prefer?

    I think I just like writing, whatever it is. I love storytelling; anything that is storytelling, I love.

    The Rules Of The Game: continuing the trend of naked women silhouettes

    You’re pretty good at storytelling. Your writing style in The Game is so good. It’s one of my favorite books, just because of how you wrote it. The Style Diaries, at the end of Rules Of The Game, some of those stories are really different to the style of The Game, as well.

    I’m curious; how do you feel they’re different? You’re probably right, whatever you’re going to say.

    The Style Diaries were more personal, more focused in each vignette, and in how those stories fit into the whole picture of ‘the game’. The one where you were climbing up the back of your apartment building; that one was pretty crazy.

    I think it’s funny; I like the writing in The Style Diaries better. I think The Game is a better book. I think I like the writing in The Style Diaries better because it’s like you said; it’s more focused and on the subject. That some of my favorite stuff that I’ve written, all those little vignettes. Also, it was just exploring the idea of relationships, which doesn’t get to be explored in The Game.

    One of the main arguments against the concept of pick-up artists that you raised in The Game was “what do you do after the orgasm?”.

    Exactly.

    So in The Style Diaries, you explored that a little bit.

    Exactly. I think I also want to expand on that writing. I’ve had some even crazier experiences than what I described in The Style Diaries; insane shit. I was thinking of just putting it all out as a little secret book. I might do that.  (laughs)

    I read in another interview that you were a bit of a workaholic when you first started writing.

    Yeah.

    But I’ve seen you tweet about procrastinating by watching YouTube and stuff. How do you deal with procrastination or maintaining productivity, when you’re on deadline?

    The best thing for procrastination is a hard deadline looming over your head, like your editor is saying, “If this doesn’t come in now…”

    [American actor and 30 Seconds To Mars singer/guitarist] Jared Leto [pictured below right] told me that he had a thirteen day deadline for the band’s next album. If it wasn’t done, they were going to fine him $2 million. That’s a good way to not procrastinate, to have a hard deadline with consequences. I find that’s the only way to get shit done.

    Jared Leto, a.k.a. Angel Face.I’m a workaholic but I’m also a lazy workaholic. I fucking work really hard, but at the same time, if I don’t have to work I can be at the beach.

    It’s hard; I was much the same with university, and now with writing assignments. It all comes together right near the end; for better or worse, and I often think it’s for worse. You think you could do it better if you plan the whole way along, rather than cramming it all in.

    Exactly. What I’ll do is wait until the night before it’s due and fucking really transcribe it and then, “Fuck, I gotta…” But something I noticed when I started working at the New York Times, when I had a weekly column: it went from ‘finish your work the night before’ to writing it on the due day. Sometimes I find I do my best stuff under pressure.

    Do you have any interview transcribing tips?

    Yeah – outsource it. (laughs)

    For real. Even if I couldn’t afford it.. I just have to have someone else transcribe it. Sometimes it’s good to listen to because then you relive the conversation, but sometimes I find it easier if if I can fucking find someone I could pay a little bit to do it. Even when I didn’t have the money, I was like, fuck – it just makes my life easier.

    Do you have any advice for people who want to start becoming contributing writers to Rolling Stone or New York Times; those big-name publications?

    I think they need to be willing to write wherever, for no compensation. I never applied for Rolling Stone; I never applied for The New York Times. They just saw my writing in little shitty magazines and were like, “Why don’t you write for us?”

    I think you could be the greatest writer in the world, but unless someone can see your writing, no one is going to know. Just get your stuff seen. I would take every opportunity. I did a weekly column in the paper called the New York Press. I got paid $75 a column but it would take me all week to research and write it.

    It was a free weekly paper, and because of that, everyone in New York would read it on the subway, and that’s how it came to the attention of The New York Times. When the job opened up at The Times, someone recommended that I apply for it. I didn’t even apply for it. I thought, “I’m not good enough; I just write for this little paper,” and then one day they called me and said, “We like your stuff.”

    I think you should not be precious about shit. My advice would be that paragraph in The Game, about not waiting for opportunities to come to you, but meeting them halfway and putting in the work.

    Have you read the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell [pictured below left]?

    Yeah.

    Outliers: a pretty sweet book. Read it.I think that 10,000 hours concept is pretty interesting [where Gladwell suggests that expertise is built after spending approximately 10,000 hours working toward a skill or pursuit]. The first stuff I wrote fucking sucks, you know? (laughs)

    If I look at the first articles I wrote for Ear Magazine, you’d never know I could be a decent writer.

    I guess you’ve got to start somewhere. How did you get the start with Ear, did you apply for that?

    Yeah, it was an internship. I was in my college dorm room and a guy had gone to New York and applied for an internship at this magazine. He was rejected because he was too well-dressed. I thought, “That sounds perfect for me!” and I just wanted to be in New York. I didn’t really think about writing. I got the internship. It’s good to have an internship somewhere small, because after a while they’ll let you write for them and take on other responsibilities.

    I’ve read that you kind of fell into writing; you didn’t set out to be a writer.

    Now I don’t know. Now my parents sent me that thing from when I was eleven years old. Maybe, I don’t know; it’s confusing. I feel as a kid you want to do everything. You want to be a writer, you want to be an astronaut, you want to be a farmer, and you want to be a movie star.

    I take it that your journalistic urges haven’t been quelled, because you’re still contributing to Rolling Stone.

    Absolutely.

    Do you read newspapers?

    I still read The New York Times, not just because I work for them, but I do feel like that’s the closest you get to the full story.

    How do you feel about newspaper readerships declining?

    It’s fucking weird, especially the idea that a lot of these papers folded and going online. I just feel like online is a place for information, not writing. You don’t necessarily go online to read good writing. I still like the printed word.

    That’s one of the theories behind the decline though, that people are becoming less attached to good writing, and strong reporting. They want instant facts, which is what the web is for.

    You know what I think is interesting though? I think Twitter and all that are making people better writers. Twitter is what I had to do my whole life, where you need to get a certain word count. On Twitter, everyone is becoming their own editors. “How can I express this idea in..” How many characters is it?

    140.

    “How can I express this idea in 140 characters?” You have to slim it down, change your words, cut out things, so it’s making everybody an editor of themselves. I think that’s the closest that the mass population has come to being writers. Do you know what I mean? It’s pretty cool.

    You started a book club with Emergency after it came out. How did that go? I knew you were trying to organize some teleconferences or something, to get everyone together.

    It went so well that I had another book club that I killed and made this one my main book club, because I got really good people on it. We read Emergency, and then we finished that. I thought, “I like this group; let’s do another book,” so we read a book called The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers, which I mentioned in Emergency. We all read that and it went great, but I think we’re going to do one more book and then I’ll close it down. It’s kind of fun and it motivates me to finish reading some books too. It worked out pretty awesomely.

    What are your reading interests? I assume you read widely in music and culture.

    I mostly read fiction, almost 90%, because I feel it’s good writing and I want to be influenced by stylists. I also think you learn more about life from fiction than nonfiction because people feel with nonfiction, “This is useful,” but to me fiction is metaphors for real life and the brain works better through metaphor. I feel like I learn more through fiction. I love it.

    Can you recommend any good fiction books that have come out recently, or even historically, old things?

    Some of my favorites are Ask The Dust, by John Fante. It’s a story about a struggling writer in Los Angeles; it was written maybe seventy years ago, but it could’ve been written now and it’s fucking hilarious, especially as a writer. You would love it. He has a picture of his editor on his wall that he worships and it’s a total AFC story too. He has a crush on a waitress, and he totally blows it with her. There’s a horrible movie adaptation, but the book is great.

    The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski is a brutal book about a kid wandering through the villages during World War II, in Poland. I like Life Is Elsewhere by Milan Kundera, which is about life choices; doing what you’re born to do, versus doing what society and family pressures you to do. I like Mishima Haruki MurakamiGabriel García Márquez; Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries is awesome.

    I don’t know; I really love fiction, which is ironic because what I do is so different from what I love.

    That’s really surprising to me.

    It’s weird to me, too, because my goal is always to be.. there’s this bookstore called St. Marks, in New York. Behind the desk, they have a counter of their most stolen books. There’s [Charles] Bukowski, and William S. Burroughs, and my goal was to be on that list of their most stolen books. One day I saw The Game there and I was like, “Yes!”

    I went to another bookstore once and they said their most stolen books were the Bible and The Game. I don’t know if that means people thought The Game was the Bible and stole it, and I also thought it was kind of fucked up; how could you live with yourself if you stole the Bible? The book’s about ethics, yet people still steal it. It’s so weird.

    When you’re writing, actually sitting down, and writing a book, do you shut yourself away from the world?

    Yeah, for sure. I have to. It involves an intense amount of focus; a lot of it is organisation, and how you organize 500 type-written pages. How do you organise that? It’s like there is a string unspooling in your head and you need to focus to make it snap taut, if that makes sense.

    There’s a little place I go to on the beach in southern California, a little shack on the water where I go and get focused.

    Not St. Kitts?

    St Kitts, in the West Indies. Not pictured: Neil Strauss, writing.Yeah, I go to St. Kitts [pictured right] a lot to write, too.

    What ever happened to Spencer [the character from Emergency]? Do you still see him?

    Yeah, I just saw him in St. Kitts. He bought a couple of Segways for his house and so we were riding those around. Now he has all his money out of U.S. dollars. He has a lot of money in Australian dollars. He wanted currencies that were backed by something stable. I think the Australian dollar is on the gold standard?

    Gold standard?

    I think it’s backed by gold, versus the U.S. currency which isn’t backed. Canadian currency is kind of backed – he studied it and he felt he wanted a currency backed by something solid, versus a free floating currency, if that makes any sense.

    I’m still friends with Spencer, and the same with the guys in all the books; Mystery and Spencer and the Manson guys. Everybody I’ve written with and about.

    I never watched [the VH1 reality TV series] The Pick-up Artist. How did that fare, ratings-wise? Did that get a good response?

    I think it did really well. It did well enough for a second season. They represent it pretty well. There’s a lot of empathy for the guys trying to learn it. As far as reality goes, I thought it was portrayed in the best possible light,as far as the TV medium goes.

    I watched the videos that you did for Rules of the Game.

    Those are my favorites! (laughs)

    I like David Faustino in those.

    Yeah, he’s fucking hilarious, isn’t he? He’s so fucking funny. I really think he’s a comic genius. Those are really eye-opening. To me, the video where he goes blindfolded – no, with his hands tied behind his back, and gagged, and has to meet women and get phone numbers. He has a hat on and no one can recognise him. The fact that he got four out of five phone numbers, while fucking gagged and blindfolded; it kind of means most of this stuff guys are worried about are just their own limiting beliefs.

    Yeah. You mentioned your next book project earlier – I didn’t catch the name.

    It’s just an anthology of stuff I’ve written for The New York Times and Rolling Stone. I’m probably going to do something to make it more interesting, like weave together funny, early writing days stories.

    Like maybe your first book proposal?

    Exactly, the book first book proposal, and I got cut off by my parents when I was trying to write, and dealing with all that stuff.

    Stylelife [Neil's "online academy for attraction"] is still going on, while you’re doing your book tours abroad. Who takes care of that?

    Join Stylelife and you, too, can wear a tuxedoI really like the Stylelife guys. I don’t know if you know the guys, but they’re really sweet. Gypsy, Bolshevik, Bravo.. they do a really good job running it and they’re good-hearted guys. They do it. I feel bad because I haven’t been around enough; I’ve been traveling too much.

    They just put together an anthology of our newsletters. I couldn’t believe that it sold out really fucking quickly.

    The other good thing is the teleconferences we did with most of the guys in The Game. We did a seminar, and those guys are all pretty good. I know I spent most of the time talking but when I saw The Sneak do his thing, I was like, “Fuck!” I like those guys. It’s fun; I’m proud of them.

    Well, I’m out of questions. How did I do?

    You did awesome. I was just thinking as we were talking. The TV interviewers, they generally haven’t read the book and they just want some entertaining shit about “five tips for our viewers”. This is more fun for me because you know – I can talk about Igniter, and talk about the stuff that I’m passionate about right now. It was great. I enjoyed it. I thought you definitely cover your stuff pretty well.

    Cool. I’m still pretty new to this.

    I knew when I saw you that it’d be a cool interview. Plus you just had a regular conversation, which is better than just going one-by-one through the questions. I thought it was interesting. I like these interviews the most, because it’s someone who knows the work versus somebody who is like, “Here’s the world’s greatest pick-up artist; let’s get some tips and say “this wouldn’t work on me!”

    To back up their bias.

    Exactly.

    I knew when I saw that interview list, I knew you and the guy I talked to before, I knew you guys would be good.

    Who was the last guy?

    I think he writes for a student newspaper, at the university of whatever it is. I knew you guys would be guys who follow this shit.

    Cool.

    Are you going to stick around for the book signing thing on Wednesday?

    No, I’m flying back in about two hours.

    Are you serious man? You just came down today to hit and run?

    Yeah.

    Did you fund it yourself?

    Yeah.

    That’s cool man, thank you.

    Thanks for having me, man.

    That’s really cool. I did the same thing. With Emergency, I spent more money on the book than I made from the book. I’ll do whatever it takes for the stories, even when I was a kid; I flew to Europe to cover a festival when I was a sophomore in college, just because I would do anything for a story. That’s awesome.

    What are your interests? What do you want to do?

    Writing, but I kind of want to pursue your style of writing, like the interviews written in feature style; the kind of thing that you do for Rolling Stone. I’m not sure if I have a book in me, yet.

    Even though I did that book proposal [as a kid], I never thought seriously about writing a book. Even when I did the Marilyn Manson book, I wasn’t ready to write my own book yet. It just happened. You know when it’s right.

    I think that ten thousand hours thing is true, too. You pay your dues writing for websites and writing for magazines, and then when you get that opportunity for your book, your reflexes are there.

    I’m writing for four publications at the moment.

    That’s awesome.

    The bylines are gradually getting bigger and bigger, and they’re paying more and more.

    That’s cool. That’s exactly what I did. Are you out of school?

    Yeah, I just finished last week. I studied Communication, which is half journalism, half media studies. It was a lame course, man.

    They’re all lame.

    It was a waste of my three years. Well, no; I was at college two years, like residential college on campus, and that was great, making friends and stuff. In terms of the educational content…

    It doesn’t matter what you major in. Unless you’re going pre-med or pre-law. Just because I majored in psychology doesn’t mean anything; I learned so much more about psychology from living and writing The Game.

    I think it’s important just to get real life experiences. I think because I took those internships in college, instead of writing in college, I learned more from the people I was around – like from that kid in the dorm room who said he didn’t do that internship – than I did from any economics class I took.

    So you write mostly for websites?

    Half websites, half print.

    Cool man, what kind of print?

    Street press, which is a free newspaper you pick up off sidewalk, like music newspapers.

    Cool, it’s like me with the New York Press! (laughs)

    As well as a weekly publication for the  music industry , which is really aimed at the major labels [The Music Network]. I’ve been writing a column about digital music and the changes that are happening in the industry.

    That’s cool.

    I have to be careful with what I say, though, because they’re so major label-centric and I can’t really be attacking their methods, or how they’re still tied to the old way of thinking when distributing music and stuff.

    It’s so weird; I remember I worked for The New York Times when I first heard about ‘the World Wide Web’, but I never knew what it was. I heard The Rolling Stones were doing a promotional thing where they were doing something on the World Wide Web, broadcasting a concert. I didn’t know what it was. I just knew what the internet was. I didn’t know what the World Wide Web was. To me, the internet was all the news groups you had.

    I remember someone said, “It’s the backbone of the internet,” and I still had no fucking idea what the World Wide Web was. Everything was dialup. Then I remember writing about the first music download, which was the quality of an AM radio in a bad car, and it took like two hours to download. Then I remember going to these conferences every three years, and someone saying that one day it will be “all you can eat”.

    I think that’s the future; it’s the all you can eat services. Like the subscription model with [online music service] Rhapsody. I have [the multi-room music system] Sonos. Do you know what that is?

    Yeah.

    Luke Steele's Sleepy Jackson: Neil's a fanIt’s fucking life-changing. It’s changed my entire musical life. When I come home, the first thing I do is “Where’s Sonos?” It’s like a pet. I pick it up and I’m like, “Okay, shit, I went out and I talked to that guy on the street and he told me about a fucking Sleepy Jackson album [pictured right]” or whatever, so I put it in and I hear it right away. It’s fucking great. Then someone comes over, like some club girl, and she wants to hear Lil Wayne, and I’m like, “Okay cool, here’s Lil Wayne.” If you’re talking on the phone and someone recommends a song, you can hear it right away.

    I got it for my parents for one of their birthdays. They love it. I think it’s game-changing, even though it’s just hooked up to Rhapsody. The whole idea that it’s your home stereo component and it’s all you can eat.. I love it, and it’s also the price of one CD a month. Napster is now like $5 a month. It’s fucking insane. 80% of what you’re going to want to hear is going to be on that.

    That’s the challenge for new artists though, because there is so much music out there. How do you get heard? How do you differentiate your product from everything else that’s going around?

    I think it’s always true that gatekeepers emerge. In other words, the internet happened, and there was so much shit out there; then search engines come up as the portals. I think gatekeepers always impose themselves. I keep a running list of everything that people recommend to go ahead and listen to.

    I have a physical recommendation for you.

    Oh, cool.

    It’s a Brisbane electronic artist. He does pop songs with an electronic edge. [Yeah, I pimped Hunz to Neil Strauss.]

    Cool, like The Notwist and The Postal Service kind of stuff?

    He’s influenced by Radiohead and Boards Of Canada.

    I love both of those. This sounds great. Is there anything else I should listen to?

    There’s a band called The Middle East. They’re indie folk from North Queensland, way up north. They’re really unique and powerful.

    Cool, I’ll see if I can get that. What kind of music are they?

    Indie folk.

    Cool. It’s kind of old, but have you heard the Yeasayer record? It’s about a year old, but it’s awesome. It takes a couple of listens to get into it, but I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. There’s also a group called Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, do you know them?

    I’ve heard of them.

    It’s about a year old, but I like that too. Then there is a band I liked, called The Felice Brothers. Their first album was amazing; their next album wasn’t as good.

    Cheesy? Totally. But worth it.

    Do you still find that face-to-face recommendations are your strongest musical markers?

    Definitely. When I was in Australia last with Mystery, I bought a bunch of CDs and did an article on the top ten favorite Australian CDs back then. It’s cool to see that sometimes they end up getting to the States. I think that was maybe five years ago. I think it was when The Sleepy Jackson and Architecture In Helsinki were first getting popular. I always take recommendations because even if one in twenty is good, it’s worth it.

    Shit man, I can’t believe you just came down for the day. That’s crazy.

    Totally worth it. I really appreciate it.

    Cool man. It was cool meeting.

    Can I be cheesy and ask for a photo?

  • A Conversation With Ben Corman, Rudius Media Creative Director

    I don't understand the significance, either.Ben Corman is the Creative Director of Rudius Media. They’re an American web publishing company founded by Tucker Max, who wrote a book called I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell which is being released as a movie in September 2009 (production blog here).

    I’ve followed Tucker Max since around 2004. Initially, because I was the typical teenage male attracted to his hedonistic story-telling; lately, because Rudius is an interesting case study as a (mostly) public web media company, given that their staff is largely comprised of writers. Corman is averse to publishing photographs of himself – he was adamant that the graffiti pictured right should be used to depict him – but he took the time to respond at length to my questions about Rudius Media, his role and their future.

    How did the opportunity to sign on with Rudius come about?

    I sort of fell into it. A couple of months after I joined the messageboard, Donika [Miller, Rudius Editor] and Luke [Heidelberger, Rudius Director of IT] started the Submitted Stories board and, being that I wasn’t doing much with my time, I started writing short stories to get posted there. I’d always (sort of) written, but it was hard to sustain any enthusiasm for it without having anyone to read my stuff. That board was great because for the first time my work was getting put in front of an audience who didn’t give a shit about me and would give me honest feedback.

    Donika noticed me and offered to help edit my stuff, which was a huge ego boost. It was really nice to have someone say, “hey, this is good and I believe in it.”

    I’m not sure what happened after that. I kept writing and about a week before I was supposed to see Tucker speak at UCLA he messaged me about my writing. We went out for drinks after the speech and talked about the company and what he was trying to put together; I told him that I’d love to come on board. I assume that Donika put my name out there as someone with a little bit of writing talent. and it was just luck that we happened to be in the city at the same time.

    How does your current role differ from what was described to you at that time?

    You assume that I had a role described to me. The night I got myself hired, I’m not sure Tucker ever said what I was going to do. He said something like “I’ll give you something easy to do, just to see how you do at it and to see if you’re a good fit. If you do well, then I’ll give you more work. If you blow it, no harm, but it means you’re not a good fit, and we’ll go our separate ways.”

    The first thing I did was some transcription work for Robert Greene’s site. Then after that I started editing a few of the projects that we had going at the time. I was just happy to be a part of the company; we never really had things like job descriptions or roles.

    How do you describe the company and your role when you meet new people?

    Rudius Media. Also pictured: Russell Crowe's silhouetteI sort of evade the question when I meet new people. For most people, what they do to pay the bills and what they’re really passionate about are two separate things. I like to get right at what they’re passionate about, because that’s always more interesting than the sort of small talk that surrounds “so what do you do?”.

    Usually, when the question comes up, I say I work for a start-up media company and I’m the creative director of the literary side. That’s enough of a mouthful that most people nod without knowing what that really means.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’ll talk all day about writing, but only because I find that sort of thing really engaging. And there are parts of my job that I really like discussing, like how the internet has changed content distribution, or what it takes to make a living as an artist. But those topics are usually divorced from the discussion of what I do professionally. Most people have some sort of creative outlet, whether it’s DJing or coding or climbing or writing or photography. It’s easy to have a wide-ranging discussion about those interests without it having to be bogged down with talk about the day job.

    Do you find that people tend to have difficulty accepting what appears to be a relatively unclassifiable, ‘new media’ company? Do you find yourself oversimplifying your role to fit into what people are able to understand?

    I think most people don’t know how the movies they watch or the books they read are made, and consequently they don’t really understand the difference between Rudius and a more traditional media company. Which is fine; I don’t expect people to know the ins and outs of either industry, and I certainly didn’t understand the nuances of this business before I worked in it. When I talk about what I do or what Rudius does, they don’t realize that we’re different from the other players out there. Conceptually, their understanding that we’re different stems from us being a start-up and that we’re still trying to establish ourselves in these spaces.

    When I talk about what I do and the many hats I wear, it’s in the context of a start-up. People understand that my job can change pretty much on a daily basis, depending on what Rudius needs at the moment. So I don’t ever really have to simplify what my job is. I do whatever needs to be done.

    People are more interested in the fact that we’re a start-up and that I work from home, than what I actually do day-to-day. In some ways I live the dream. I don’t have to worry about making it into an office. I don’t have hours to keep. I travel a lot. As long as the work gets done, everyone is happy. I think a lot of people would prefer the system we have over the traditional eight hour work day.

    When you first met Tucker, did he buy you a copy of [Robert Greene's] 33 Strategies Of War like he did for Ryan Holiday? [a fellow Rudius writer, pictured below right]

    Ryan Holiday at an American Apparel press conference. Photo by flickr user 'Steve Rhodes'Nope. But Tucker has this amazing library that I’ve borrowed more of my fair share of books from. For a while I was reading like a book a week out of it. And he has this habit of ordering books twice, so I’ve been able to get a number of free books that way.

    When I first met Tucker, I knew he was a Robert Greene fan, so I lied and said that I’d read all his books and was a huge fan myself. Things probably would have turned out the same, I’d have still gotten the job, if I’d been honest but I was reaching that night because I really wanted to work with Tucker. And once that lie was on the table, I had to go back and read Robert Greene. I was too poor to buy the actual books, so I blew off studying for my finals and spent the next week in the UCLA bookstore reading Robert Greene’s work.

    In “I’m With The Band“, you wrote: “And if you already think I’m an asshole this is where you should probably stop reading.” Can you explain that line? Why the pre-emptive self-defense?

    I was trying to say that I realize how ridiculous it is to complain about a positive. I’m aware that what’s coming is going to be good for all of us. If the movie [I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell] does well, we’ll be in a great place. We’ll have resources, we’ll be able to work the artists we want to work with, and we’ll have our pick of projects.

    A lot of people are going to look at what’s coming and think I’m crazy to miss the days when we were run out of a living room. And they’re probably right. I assume that things only get better from here on out and that I’ll have more opportunities going forward. Which is why I feel like an asshole writing that I’ll miss it. But Rudius has been such a big part of my life over the last few years that I can’t help but feel something now that we’re about to undergo this huge change.

    In September 2008, you took a hands-on approach to updating the Rudius Media homepage with new content almost-daily. What was the strategy behind this decision? Has it succeeded, or is it too early to tell?

    As we’ve grown and added sites and as some authors have fallen off from writing, we’ve not done a very good job showcasing who is writing and where the newest and best content is. The change was supposed to (in some small way) address that shortcoming, and give readers an easy way to stay on top of what’s happening in the Rudius universe. In looking around at Rudius Media, it was a pretty big oversight that a new media company wouldn’t have a portal for it’s own content.

    It was also the first part of a larger strategy to redesign the sites. I had hoped that we’d be able to get that redesign done this year, but because of the budget, it looks like that’s going to have to wait until 2010. I want to make Rudius Media more of a community instead of each site having it’s own little fiefdom. So we’re looking at features such as single login that will allow a reader to comment on any of the sites as well as log into the messageboard, dynamically updating blog rolls that show which sites have been updated and where the latest content is and the ability for our readers to interact with each other through profiles and other such web magic.

    It’s really too early to tell if all of this will be a success or not as the changes to the Rudius Media site are just the small first step. There should be a lot of cool stuff happening next year.

    How do you deal with procrastination? Have your work habits improved of late?

    I used to just throw myself at the day with this sort of checklist mentality. So if I wanted to update the blog, I’d just sit there first thing in the morning and sort of command myself “ok, now write.” Or if it was midnight but I had some editing to do, I’d sit down and try to edit. As a result, I’d just be super unmotivated to actually do the task in front of me. so I’d waste time on the messageboard or on my RSS reader.

    I’ve found that I’m better at certain tasks depending on the time of day. So mornings I can deal with the tech side and keeping the servers alive, usually over breakfast. Afternoons I usually spend on the content side; editing, looking at author applications, reading my RSS reader. And I’m better at writing post-8pm. So now I just block my day off into three-hour blocks and I just stay with whatever task I’m on for those three hours.

    It has the advantage of not feeling like I’m going to spend my whole day on one task and since I know, “okay, I’ve got three hours to get this done.”

    I also tracked myself for a week to see where I was wasting time. I realized that keeping my email open all the time was a huge problem, because every new email was an interruption to what I was doing. Now I only check it once an hour or so, whenever the natural breaks in whatever I’m working on come.

    The bigger problem though was my RSS reader. It’s easy to lose a whole day just sort of mindlessly reading articles and tagging them in del.icio.us. Now, if I find myself doing that, I make a conscious effort to close it and get back to whatever I should be working on.

    How do you define your business relationship with Tucker [pictured below left]? Do you consider him a mentor?

    Tucker Max. Six foot nothing.He’s my boss and the owner of Rudius Media.

    He’s not a mentor in the sense that he’s looking over my shoulder and giving me advice or direction but he’s always been there as a resource. And as I’ve tried to learn everything I can about this business, it’s been invaluable having him there to bounce questions off of. A lot of what I’ve been trying to learn, he pioneered with TuckerMax.com, and so when I’m not sure exactly what the next step is, I can go ask him, “What do I need to do here?”

    I’ve noticed that most people who comment on your blog entries tend to write something like “oh yeah I can totally relate, this is just like what happened to me”, before they go on to describe a similiar experience they had. I notice this happens a lot on Ryan’s blog, too. Maybe it’s a wider blog phenomenon, but it seems really concentrated on the Rudius sites. Does this kind of reaction to your writing bother you?

    Not really. I’m usually so happy that people are reading and commenting that unless someone is obviously trolling, I’m happy that they’ve taken the time to hang out at my site. It’s not like I know my readers; they have no obligation to me to keep coming back and reading what I have to say. But they do, and that’s incredibly rewarding. That they then want to share their experiences is pretty cool.

    There’s all these articles out there about narcissism, and about how blogging and Twitter and everything else is just an extension about how narcissistic we’ve gotten as a society. I’m sure there are elements of that out there, but for the most part, I think people blog and Twitter and share on flickr and goodreads and del.icio.us and messageboards because they’re looking for a connection with other people. I don’t see it as narcissism, but as us really trying to connect by saying “here’s what I’m about”, and seeing if that resonates with other people.

    Yeah, the downside is that there are a lot of people blogging about their cats, but you know what? If that person has twelve readers, I bet there’s a cool little vibe happening where they all get to just geek out about their love of cats. It’s easy to shit all over that, but most people aren’t trying to do this for a living; they just want to find other people who share their hobbies and passions.

    So if my writing connects with someone where they want to share their experiences back, I’m not sure how that could bother me.

    Since I began reading your site a couple of years ago, I found it frustrating how little you discussed the day-to-day working for Rudius Media. It’s great that you’ve recently started to write more about that side of your life.

    I tend to write about what’s going on in my life and what I find interesting at the moment. With the movie tour coming up and with the movie site about to go live, Rudius has definitely been on my mind. But it hasn’t been a conscious decision to write more about my work, or what happens day-to-day. When I sit down to write, there’s no real decision like “I have to go in this direction.” I just write about whatever happens to be on my mind at the moment.

    If you like the day-to-day Rudius stuff, there will be a lot more of it coming up. I’ll be on the movie tour, and I plan to write every day, sort of what I did with the Panama trip. So look for that.

    What are your goals with the non-fiction element of BenCorman.com? [site banner pictured below right - dude in suit isn't Ben]

    Fake Ben Corman standing in a fake suit among a fake building wreckage.I wish I had goals for the site. A few months ago, when I was having trouble writing post-Panama, I sat down and spent a few weeks mapping out my next novel. I’ve got a notebook full out outlines and character profiles and everything else that goes into a really big project. And for a few weeks I sort of nibbled around the edges, filling in parts of the outline or writing scenes, but not doing any of the heavy lifting.

    Then I had a pretty rough weekend and wrote about it in the entry about my grandmother dying (“January 22nd, 1917 – July 3rd, 2009“), and ever since then, the words have sort of tumbled out and on to the page. So I put the novel away for a bit, and I’m just going to ride this for as long as it’s fun and it’s working for me.

    I go through these periods where writing comes really easily and I have a lot to say; that’s when I really just love doing it. But as to where it’s headed or what the plan is, it’s pretty undefined. Just: do this, and see if people respond to it.

    It’s actually a dumb plan. I should be working on the novel non-stop so that it’s ready when we’re a big bad player in Hollywood.

    What do you hope others get out of your writing on the site?

    I hope people are entertained. Growing up, I read a lot. Even now, there’s nothing I like more than just killing half a day getting lost in a really good book. I don’t think my own writing is that strong yet, where people will just get lost in it for hours, but I hope that they sort of lose themselves in what I have to say – for a few minutes, at least.

    Finally, how do you feel about being interviewed?

    It’s harder than it looks in the movies. Like anything else, there’s this pressure to be engaging, to be funny, to be honest, all while still maintaining that fiction that I’m cool enough to be interviewed.

    I really hate reading interviews with people that I respect that are boring, because it feels like they’re not trying. That’s probably selfish of me, to want more than they’re willing to give. But now, being on the other side of the table … it feels like you’ve given me the chance to say something, and you’ve opened your audience to me. I want to respect that.

    So much of this blogging shit is just a shell game: it’s creating content because the template is to update (x) times a week on Y subject, and link bait sites A, B and C. In my own writing, I’m trying to get past that. I’m trying to create the kind of stuff I’d want to read, and not just create content because I need to hit that content template.

    So I’d feel really shitty if I just mailed it in with two line answers. But it’s fun too. And I can only hope that this interview turns out to be entertaining, or that someone gets something out of this.

    Ben Corman updates the RudiusMedia.com homepage most days, and writes mostly non-fiction at BenCorman.com. He’s joined Tucker Max’s movie tour in the lead-up to its September 2009 US release, which Tucker has blogged about extensively here. Contact Ben via his site or Twitter.

  • A Conversation With Jess, Sydney Digital Strategy Director and SomethingChanged.com.au blogger

    *facepalm*It just so happens that Jess is Digital Strategy Director at a mysterious Sydney advertising agency. She won’t say which, and she also won’t let me publish her surname. Or at leaIt’s not because she’s scared or nothin’, but on the internets, Jess is best known as the curator of a rather excellent blog called Something Changed, about which I wrote lovingly for FourThousand:

    “Something Changed acts as Jess’ digital scrapbook, where she posts about new media, advertising, online campaigning, representations of the self, kids today, words, writing and books, funny things on the internets, politics, art, ideas, music, work, food, and sydney. The result is an aggregate of content that you’ll probably find either funny or fascinating if you’re a twenty-something who spends a lot of time online – and since you’re reading this, it’s not an unfair assumption to make.”

    Jess, why did you start Something Changed? Was there an influential person or moment that encouraged its creation?

    I started Something Changed almost two years ago because I was fascinated by people’s behaviour on the internet and I wanted to document my discoveries. It was partly so I could archive and remember facts, figures and links more efficiently, and partly to have something to show for the immense amount of reading and research I do! I discovered Tumblr through Gawker’s exhaustive coverage of Jakob Lodwick and Julia Allison‘s relationship which largely played out on the Tumblr platform. Tumblr was perfect for me because I like to present raw data that interests me as I find it, rather than crafting long posts.

    Where do you find the majority of the articles that you link?

    On Tumblr you can post stuff you create, post stuff that you find online, or use their reblog feature (which is sort of an automatic “retweet” feature) to post other’s content with a link crediting them. About 75 per cent of what I blog is from the second category. I find it by either investigating a topic that interests my by searching and following links, setting up RSS feeds to my favourite blogs and websites, and by following people who I respect and who will post things I find interesting.

    Does your exhaustive online presence ever spill into your professional life? Do your workmates know of the blog?

    In fact the internet IS my job, lucky me! I work for an ad agency where I am the digital strategy director. Since I work on campaigns and strategy it’s considered part of my work. My workmates and bosses definitely know of the blog, I bang on about it exhaustively. In fact my boss promised to buy me a cake when I passed a big milestone in the amount of readers I had, but I passed it ages ago and he is still yet to come through. Two of them have started Tumblrs themselves. We all love the internet at work.

    Why the anonymity?

    Well I’m not really sure now! I was doing some big work for clients around which there is some sensitivity, and I didn’t want any posts to be taken out of context and my personal views being ascribed to the client. I think in the next few months I’ll probably get with the times and put up my full name. I’ve noticed all my peers in my industry do.

    Do you often give thought to how you portray yourself online and the legacy you’re building, or do you just throw it all out there?

    RING RING, BANANAPHONE!

    Something Changed started as mainly a vehicle for professional development and research and largely it still is. I barely ever talk about myself (apart from “I saw this, I read this, I ate this, I visited this”) or my feelings. So at worst it will be a record of what interested me at different stages of my life, which is fine. Thank god I have never posted a poem or ruminations on my relationships.

    What do you think Something Changed adds to the web?

    Lots of people in marketing and advertising view the internet from very very far away with a telescope. The world does not need another “how to be a powerblogger” blog or post on “how to measure social media ROI”. I like to think I see the raw internet – the amazing stuff people create, the intense stuff people say about their lives and feelings, the fascinating ways they represent themselves online. Then I try and distill that onto my blog. It’s like a little field study from an anthropologist completely embedded in the culture they observe. Having said that, I don’t recommend people see my blog as anything special – instead they should set up their own!

    As you said, you barely ever talk about yourself. But you also barely ever talk about why you find something interesting, or worthwhile posting.

    You’re right. I tend to like information that I view as primary sources – people who produce things from scratch, whether it’s blog posts about their lives of feelings, collating things that inspire them, producing amazing things likes videos or songs. Or academic analysis- people who take rigorous, well-informed approach to analyzing the internet and its sociology.

    I don’t have time for anything in between, that whole raft of “people who don’t really understand the internet talking in vague general terms about the internet.”

    I have things I definitely won’t post, like anything about swine flu, anything about that Best Job in the World tourism campaign, or tips to become a Twitter poweruser.

    Do many of your non-ad agency friends follow the blog? How do you describe the blog to a real-life friend?

    None of my friends that I’ve known forever are in the ad industry. They all read it, sporadically. When I refer to my blog I adopt a stupid mocking tone and say “my blawg.” If they ask about it I give a knowing smile and say, “I’m so famous on the internet you guys.” If a waiter takes ages to take our drink orders I’m like, “this would never happen to me on the internet.”

    You and I both spend a lot of time online. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve develop a kind of bias in the way that I access information online. I start to overstate the way that I operate and assume that others follow similar methods; if they don’t, I become either amused or frustrated, depending on my mood. But that’s a curious aside. When did you become a heavy internet user, and how did your skills develop to the point that they’re at now? (Because let’s face it, good internets is a skill.)

    I know exactly what you mean. Good internet is definitely a skill. I am totally self taught, I didn’t even have email until 2000 or 2001. In 2003, someone at uni said, “email me a draft of your paper” and I said, “oh it’s pretty long for an email,” and then attachments were explained to me. I couldn’t use a digital camera until 2004. I couldn’t pirate music! It all sounds a bit embarrassing now.

    It was in 2005 then that I started using the internet heavily because I joined some forums. Before that, I had always thought of the “web” quite disparagingly, “who are these people? Read a book, or go outside.” Now it’s completely a part of my daily routine. It’s really changed my life – how I think, what inspires me, how I work, the people I’ve met.

    It’s helped that I can do it all day everyday at my work. Spending ten hours a day on something is a good way to get quite good at something. In every role I’ve had in my career, to do a good job I need insight into what people think and feel, a creative spark to generate ideas, and a plan to my implement strategy. So the internet is crucial to every single element, and my employers have always let me have free reign to work that way.

    Do you keep a private journal?

    No! I’m too self-conscious. If I want to remember how I felt about something, I do a keyword search in my Gmail and cringe at old emails I wrote my friends.

    How did you become digital strategy director at your agency? Was ‘good internets’ part of the job description?

    I met the CEO of my agency when I consulted on online strategy on a big national campaign he was working on. A few months later my position was created for me when I said I was ready for a new job – so there was actually no job description! I’m so lucky now that I get to do what I love with the cleverest team and the best clients.

    Neighbours: Fucking TerribleThe career path to Digital Strategy Director was not an obvious one. I was a journalist, then moved to Melbourne and could not immediately get a journalism job so I got a job doing the overseas publicity for Neighbours [pictured right *snigger*]. I only got the job because at the interview I told the producer, “You know it’s not too late to make Izzie’s baby Jack’s,” or something. Since I was spending my days trying to get freelance writing work I had had plenty of time to watch Neighbours fortunately.

    Of course part of my job was to look after the BBC’s Neighbours website. It was my first taste of a really intense online fan community. They had a forum and everything. I learnt so much from that job. That an official website will never be as fascinating as a fan website unless you let go of the PR reigns (why would you want to read about an actors’ theatre aspirations on our site when you could go to an unofficial site to read about their love life?). That fans create the best material, that fans really get upset if you make changes without consulting them. It was a crash course in Internet.

    Then I got to do my dream job being the Online Director doing national political campaigning, where I learnt about building movements – uniting people around taking action online and offline to achieve social change. Then I consulted on another big campaign, then I got this job. I always think of that thing people say, “the jobs the youth of today will be doing when they grow up haven’t even been invented yet.” At our Careers Centre at school they basically said girls could be Lawyers, Accountants, Gallery Curators or PRs.

    I’m assuming that you went to university. Tell me about your time there.

    I did! I went to uni to study English thinking I would have a career doing some kind of writing. In first year I became interested in social justice issues and for the first time paid attention to politics and current affairs. Before then I was strictly a reading, writing, art galleries, theatre type of person. So uni was fun, I did the student politics/share house/shop at Salvos/“feed yourself on $5 a day” thing until my last year. Then I got a full time newspaper journalism cadetship, and had to do my Honours year full time at the same time.

    Was that a difficult year? Did you ever question what you were doing?

    It was difficult. Fortunately it was things I loved doing – researching and writing. I’m also one of those people who needs to be busy to get things done. I like approaching big tasks (daily deadline of journalism combined with a yearly deadline of handing in a thesis) and strategically breaking them down in an efficient way. Having said that, I am never studying again. And whenever my friends say “I’m thinking of going back to uni,” I always say “NO! YOU FORGET HOW HARD IT IS!”

    How did you land the cadetship? Was it shit or awesome?

    I can't think of an alt-text for this one. It's a pretty sweet photo though, don't you think?

    I decided suddenly I wanted to be a journalist so I got a two week cadetship at a newspaper. I was lucky they gave it to me because I think now they only take people studying Proper Journalism at uni – a bit short sighted in my opinion, but I think it’s because the universities provide insurance. I got a story in the paper almost every day, including a huge feature on mobile phone use that was published in the Features liftout on the Saturday. The story is completely lame and I am so glad it’s not accessible by Google.

    After my two weeks the Chief of Staff said they were hiring a cadet, and would I like to apply? I said “yes”. I interviewed and didn’t get it – someone else did. But a few weeks later they phoned and said I could be a cadet anyway. So that’s how I got the job, and now the other cadet is one of my best friends. The cadetship was amazing. Every day as a general news reporter is different and being a journalist is like having a license to walk up to anyone and ask them anything you want.

    Do you read newspapers? Could you imagine being a full-time news reporter?

    I only read newspapers on the weekends: the Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Sun Herald and Sunday Telegraph. I get rid of all the Drive, Careers, Business and rubbishy sections. Then read the news, then the Lifestyle, then glossy lifestyle supplements. It’s a habit. Print will never die while people have weekend brunch routines to uphold.

    I can’t imagine being a full-time news reporter. I would love the thrill of finding a big story but miss the calming routine of planning and strategising in advance. I get a nice mix of thrillingly busy versus long term planning in my current work, so I wouldn’t go back.

    Lots of people view their time at university as instrumental in their personal development. What did you learn about yourself during that time?

    I learnt the same thing at uni that has proved true in the workplace. Studying and work (doing your actual job as per your job description) teaches you nothing. You have to do it and do it well. But everything fun, amazing, professionally exciting or leading to personal growth has always been thanks to things I do on the side. Whether that’s groups I joined at uni, friends I made on the internet, ideas and projects I’ve suggested at work, or new career opportunities I’ve conjured up. When I think about what my life would be like without my blog that I randomly started a few years ago… I just can’t imagine it!

    Something Changed is my favourite Australian blog. You’d best subscribe via email or RSS. Unsurpisingly, Jess is also quite lively on Twitter. Thanks for the interview, Jess!

  • ‘RiP: A Remix Manifesto’ Brisbane Screening and Music Industry Panel Discussion

    RiP: A Remix Manifesto posterI went to a screening of ‘RiP: A Remix Manifesto‘ last night, along with around sixty others. The audience included local promoters, distributors, musicians, writers and university students. Via nfb.ca:

    In RiP: A Remix Manifesto, Web activist and filmmaker Brett Gaylor explores issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers.i

    The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk, a mash-up musician topping the charts with his sample-based songs. But is Girl Talk a paragon of people power or the Pied Piper of piracy? Creative Commons founder, Lawrence Lessig, Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil and pop culture critic Cory Doctorow are also along for the ride.

    A participatory media experiment, from day one, Brett shares his raw footage at opensourcecinema.org, for anyone to remix. This movie-as-mash-up method allows these remixes to become an integral part of the film. With RiP: A remix manifesto, Gaylor and Girl Talk sound an urgent alarm and draw the lines of battle.

    Which side of the ideas war are you on?

    The screening was organised by Phil Tripp, who started The Australasian Music Directory, as well as themusic.com.au and IMMEDIA!. In addition to the film screening, Tripp organised a panel comprised of five Brisbane music authorities to discuss the film, and some of the wider issues that the modern music industry is facing.

    I transcribed the majority of this panel discussion – approximately an hour’s worth – because I want to share their thoughts and opinions with those who weren’t there.

    Some of their comments are valid. Some are misguided. Some are ridiculously outdated. I’m not going to point out which is which, though. That’s up to you.

    Note that this post is quite long – around 8,000 words.  It gets into some very specific topics. I have occasionally edited their words for clarity, and omitted a couple of uninteresting bits. But you should read it to gauge the five speakers’ beliefs about what is happening to the music industry. To save you scrolling up and down, I will repeat each speaker’s title each time they are quoted,  so that you can contrast their opinions against their commercial beliefs.

    Download links for the audio files are at the bottom of this post. Enjoy.

    [Tripp gives an introductory speech before the film starts.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA! [pictured right]:

    Phil TrippThe future of music, the way we look at it, is about going overseas. But not giving up your home country. You hear my American accent; I’ve been here 28 years, and I always love to come home to Sydney. And for the set of trips that I’m doing this month, I found a film at South By South West (SXSW) – which is an event in Austin, Texas that I rep for this region – to show throughout Australia. We decided to show it, not because I’m a benevolent person wanting to educate you, but because I want to give you an idea of where the future of music is going, from one point of view.

    Now, this film is propaganda. It is a film that has been made with a purpose in mind, and a message. And the message is, that when I was a kid, my teacher told me, along with the rest of the class, that “tonight, we want you to go home to your parents and we want you to cut out little pictures, and things from magazines, and bring them in tomorrow, and we’re gonna take out the paste pots, and we’re gonna glue them all down on paper, and we’re gonna put them out on the wall outside, and we’re gonna make what’s called a collage”.

    Little did she know that that was a violation of copyright. Taking other people’s images and mixing them into a ‘mash-up’ of visuals. Back then it didn’t matter. Now, you people have tools that go far beyond scissors and paste pots. You have the tools to take music and turn it into a whole new form of art. And that’s great. Except I’m a commercial bastard. I have intellectual property – the Music Directory, and our site themusic.com.au – and if anybody wants to take my intellectual property, which is basically a phone book, and put it on their website because they’re believe it’s free because it’s on the internet, they will get a hot testy letter from me, with the legal advice that I may take their house, or whatever property they have.

    So I’m not exactly the kind of guy who believes that people should take intellectual property and steal it, and use it, and make money from it. The cool thing about this film is that it talks about somebody who has done just that, but he’s done it as art. But there came a point at which it crossed over into commerce. When I found out about this film at SXSW, I thought this would be a great introduction to the conference we’re doing in August…

    [Tripp describes his conference.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    I think this is the most exciting time for you people to be in the music business, because although the recording industry has gone to shit, the music business is actually doing pretty well. Especially for the live side of music, or new revenue streams though mobile phone companies, or through internet sites, and also through the future of what will evolve.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy the film tonight. I hope it makes you think. I hope you realise that there is the commerce of music, and there is the art of music. And the two don’t necessarily mix. Unless you’re going to make money and also share the money you make with the people that actually created it originally.

    [The film plays. Tripp then introduces the panel speakers.]

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility
    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People
    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine
    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off

    [The panel discussion begins.]

    [Tripp describes local initiatives to help Australian artists export their work nationally and overseas.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    [...]There’s another group called Sounds Australia, which this year helped Australian artists so that they were able to afford to attend SXSW and The Great Escape [Andrew's note: Sounds Australia also appears to be run by Tripp.]. And there’s AusTrade, the Australian Trade Commission, which has been one of the greatest evangelists for Australian music from our Government in a long time. The Australia Council [For The Arts] has just this year got on board, after supporting the works of dead composers for many years, and forms of music called ‘opera’, ‘classical’ and ‘symphonic’.

    This year, it’s cool to be contemporary. They have put considerable money behind the need to take Australian artists to the world. Because, let’s face it, kids: you’re not gonna ‘make it’ here. You’re not gonna make enough money in this country, at this point, to actually have a living. So you need to have an export strategy.

    [The panellists discuss their thoughts and opinions on the film. I didn't transcribe this bit.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Rick, I want you to tell us – because you have a relatively successful band here, out of Brisbane – have you made any money from mobile music? And if so, how?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People [pictured right]:

    rick_chazanAs far as music mobile for The Boat People is concerned, it’s been an area which we really haven’t pursued. It’s one of those things that’s on the radar; everybody’s saying that this is the way in which it’s going to take over, and that everyone is going to be consuming music through their mobile phone. We’re well aware of that, but my understanding is that it’s very much a media that’s beginning, and as Paul described, it’s going to be dominated by what’s in the charts. Our music is distributed through Shock, and so Shock is working with different distributors who will likely make our music available on mobile platforms. But our mobile music income at this stage is negligible. And I’m not sure whether it will become relevant for us.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Okay, what about iTunes?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    We work as an independent band with IODA, who is an aggregator for digital music. So our music is distributed by them internationally. In Australia, it’s through Shock. In terms of digital sales, our experience is that 80-90% of our digital sales are through iTunes. We’re on Napster and Rhapsody and all the different sites that exist, but iTunes is where the vast majority of sales come through. Digital is fantastic: it means that you’re very mobile, very agile, and it means that the band can be everywhere at once in the world very quickly. But it’s really the same game as it always was: “how do you sell records?” “How you sell digital?” And you need to be able to promote [the product]. Our sales internationally have happened through traditional means; namely, radio. In the US, we’ve had a good run with radio – we’re currently on about 20 stations, so we’ve had a lot of support – and when that happened, our digital sales on iTunes spiked considerably, and they’ve been growing since.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    What about YouTube?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    This is an area which is very close to my heart, because I think there’s such a great opportunity for bands to have an incredible reach by doing something very inexpensively. The Boat People tried to do something smart, and it didn’t quite work (laughs) We created a film clip for Awkward Orchid Orchard, where within the clip, there are clues for 54 band names, from The Beatles, to The Shins, to The Boat People. So we thought this’d be a fun game for any music nerd, and they’d share it with their friends. And it worked to some degree – we’ve had 20,000 hits, whereas our previous clip had about 5,000 – so it’s kind of worked.

    But there’s a Brisbane band called Blame Ringo, who’re pretty unknown. The band had an idea to shoot a film clip, where they got a friend to go to Abbey Road and shoot at the pedestrian crossing, to capture how people mimic The Beatles album cover. They cut a few pieces out of that and created a clip from their three hours of footage, and it put it up on YouTube using a few Beatles keywords, and in a few weeks they got, I think, around half a million hits. They had an interview on Weekend Sunrise, and they got a call from a US national TV show. This is a band that had absolutely nothing going on! This is staggering. YouTube is a fascinating tool, which if people are creative and thinking, they can use to give themselves a real ‘leg up’.

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine [pictured right]:

    lars_brandleThat’s just making me think; going back to the movie, there was that comment about how the future of music will be less creative, because of the locks that are being put on copyright. But here’s this band, Blame Ringo, who have just shown us that if you’ve got a good idea, and if you can follow it through, and make it happen on a world stage. The technology’s in your hands. You don’t have to grab someone else’s inspiration, and rework that; if you’ve got an idea in your head, then you’ve got the tools to make it happen. So I don’t agree with that comment, that ‘the future will be less creative’. I think that’s wrong.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Rick, how has your band been ripped off digitally? Have you got any stories of how you’ve discovered some copyright infringement?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    No, but we’re looking forward to when it happens (laughs) Nothing’s really happened like that for us, at this stage. I don’t think we’re quite famous enough to be ripped off at this particular point.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    You don’t have to be famous to be ripped off. You know what happened to me? Our music directory is online, and some people will subscribe to it and then they’ll pull down all the information. And we’ll find it, because we have little bots that search. We get people all the time who take our information and put it up on their website, like they’re creating a new music directory and giving it away for free. Man, I have had so much fun with them. There is a publisher named Deke Miskin who has a big house on the harbour. And Deke had some stupid intern take my information and put it in another magazine. We found it on the newsstand; I called him and said “Deke, guess what? It’s settlement time. Violation of copyright. You are now on notice. Do you want to go to court? Would you like me to shame you in the Sunday papers?” And rather than do that, Deke, being the man of honour that he was, paid me a whole bunch of money to shut the eff up. And then he withdrew the title from circulation. It was one of those little “how to get into the music business” mini-magazines, for suckers, for $6.95.

    Now, you’re in the magazine business, Steve. You’re in the new age of finding out that the print medium is being shot to shit, while the internet has everything for free. However, I must say that I do a lot of work with Street Press Australia; they’re one of our conference sponsors. What I find interesting is when Leigh Treweek [of Street Press Australia] spoke for this event in Perth and Melbourne, he talked about the whole idea of branding, and how his publications and street press in general is not going away anytime soon. He also gave some very interesting stories of how bands become brands. How do you see the internet affecting you, as a street press publication, and what are some of the more innovative ways that musicians can use your medium to push themselves ahead?

    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off [pictured right]:

    Steve BellWell, there’s no doubt that the dissemination of information is definitely changing. We’d be fools to not realise that. We haven’t rushed into a web presence. I mean, we’ve got websites and stuff, but they’re just sort of token for the moment. We’re trying to work out the best model for going forward, and what it’s going to entail. We’ve spoken to a lot of people, we’ve actually hooked up some meetings with Craig Treweek, Leigh’s brother, this week in Sydney with some friends of mine who’ve got some really interesting ideas on the future of the web. It’s moving so fast; it’s very difficult to really work out. There’s no black or white.

    So we are very aware of it, but we’re sort of playing it by ear, because there’s no certainty as to the future. But we do realise that all the interviews Time Off has done are a resource. And by just letting them go each week, and not accumulating them into some kind of archive, we are, down the track, burning ourselves. We should be putting this together and using it as the resource that it is. At the moment we’re not; it’s just going into the paper each week, and becoming landfill, or whatever happens to it. We are addressing it, but it’s still in the infancy stages, I guess you’d say! (laughs)

    In terms of bands using us, probably the first thing that comes to mind is Savage Garden meeting through our classifieds, so there’s still that old sort of model. Don’t blame us for that! But the street press is just a different form of exposure. It’s one of many that you use. I can’t think of any real examples.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    What about brands using street press to push themselves forward to another level, like Chupa-Chups, for example, going onto MySpace? What sort of brands have done anything innovative with you in the last year that you can think of, and use as an example?

    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off:

    Because it didn’t work very well, I can’t think of the company, but there was a media company that put a DVD on the front of an issue, who paid quite a bit of money to.. you know, often there’s things like that. Companies will use us as a way of disseminating their product, or samples, just because of our distribution channels. But that’s not really using our brand as such, it’s more using our pickup at various locations. Do you have anything in mind? I’m struggling to think of anything.

    [Tripp describes one of his magazines, Urban Animal, to the audience.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Lars, where do you see the future of the music industry here in Australia, and overseas?

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    Well, it’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? As a kind of segue to what you were just saying about the pet industry, and how “you can’t download dog food”; the one really, really strong point of the music industry in the last couple of years has been the live business. The reason why the live business is so hot is because people love to see bands, and you can’t steal a live performance. Unless you dig a hole under the fence at a concert, you can’t actually rip it off. So live performance has been booming. It’s absolutely been soaring in recent years. The future of the record industry, now, we are seeing the major record labels trying their hand at getting into the live business, because they realise, “hey, we’re kind of screwed here”. Revenues in the last ten years have dropped a lot, so to safeguard their future, the big labels are looking at investing in companies involved in live music. Or going out alone.

    In a way it’s desperate, because the record companies don’t have expertise in the live music business. There’s a lot of ‘shyster’-ing that goes on in the live business, and the record labels don’t really know this. They don’t know that sector of business so well. We’re going to see a lot of jostling in that space over the next couple of years.

    Sony Music are the first of the four Australian majors that have declared their attention to have a go; they’ve created a touring division. They’re co-promoting Simon & Garfunkel. Huge tour; there’ll be a lot of money on the table. If tickets don’t sell out for this, I’m sure that Sony Music will lose a lot of money. They will get their fingers burned, because it’s a tough business and they’re playing with some real sharks. Those Simon & Garfunkel world tour dates have only been announced in Australia so far, so the world will be watching here first.

    To date, the tickets haven’t sold out. We’re in tough economic times. No-one really knows if they want to see Simon & Garfunkel, either, or whether they can still ‘cut it’. It’s really interesting. From a journalist’s point of view, I’m interested to see how this goes, because for me, that is the obvious route that record companies will take – entering the live business – because live is hot.

    Digital.. everyone’s been talking about digital for ten years. Of course, we saw how the RIAA clamped down stupidly on Americans, in particular, but the international recording industry have done the same thing in issuing lawsuits against downloaders. It was a bone-headed thing to do, but they were desperate to get a handle on control of the dissemination of music. Now, the record labels are so far behind the game, they have to catch up. They’re also getting into bed with technology firms, and they have to. They have to get wise to the digital environment, because that certainly is the way forward.

    We’re not there yet. Digital music in Australia accounts for, I think, about fifteen percent of album sales, so it’s really ‘small beer’. Those headlines you read about “CDs are finished, it’s all about digital” – that’s not right. We’re still looking at 85% of record sales in Australia comprising CDs; although it’ll ebb away in time, we don’t know when. In a nutshell – and I’ve rambled on – the future is certainly going to be a strong live business. We don’t know if it’s peaked yet, and I suppose that it hasn’t. And digital will be the way forward, but it’s not here yet. But the record labels have a lot to learn.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Two comments. Gregg Donovan, who is the manager of Airbourne, Josh Pyke, Grinspoon and a few other bands, talked at our seminar in Sydney about how he had been approached by major multinational record companies who wanted to do ‘360 deals‘ with some of his artists. For those of you who don’t know what that is, a 360 deal is where a record company wants to act as the manager, the touring promoter, the agent, the merchandiser, the publisher; essentially, everything.

    And Gregg went to them and say, “okay, I’ll tell you what”, to this American record company. “Let me see your t-shirts. Where are your t-shirts? You manufacture t-shirts? You’re a merchandising company? Take me to your t-shirt factory.” And of course, they couldn’t, so he said “no deal there”. And then he asked, “you have management? You have a management company within the label?” And they replied, “oh, no, but we’re getting it…” Gregg said, “no”. What happened here was Sony, aside from setting up a touring division, they also bought half of that doofus from Australian Idol, Paul Caplice [Andrew's note: I can't find this name online. Maybe I can't spell it.] and David Champion, who I call “tweedle-dumb” and “tweedle-dumber”. They bought into this, and they found out that it’s a very expensive job that you have ahead of you, if you have incompetence running the management side of a record company. It’s actually very funny to watch from the outside.

    And I’ll make one more comment on what you said, Lars. Yes, digital is only fifteen, maybe twenty percent of revenue in our industry, but every download sale is a sale without physical product. Most albums print out a thousand for every hundred they sell. And it takes about ten or twelve failures for one success. So although physical product is selling more, it’s also destroying more. It’s being given away, it’s been put into landfill et cetera, because you can only buy it in a record store eight hours a day. With digital, you can buy it 24/7. Steve, tell us, where do you think it’s going?

    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off:

    I guess it ties in with what you were saying about 360 deals. For the last ten or so years, most bands have changed the way they’ve approached revenue streams. I used to run TSP, the t-shirt printers, [who are] one of the biggest merch companies in Australia. We used to represent big overseas touring bands – Green Day, Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Tool, what have you. The amount of money that we’d make out of any given show out at Boondall (Brisbane’s Entertainment Centre), and I’d see the figures for the whole Australian tours, while knowing the costs of this stuff, it was quite remarkable. There was a fad of punk kids wanting to buy those fuzzy wristbands, which were selling for around $15 at shows, and I think if you make them in bulk they cost around 8 cents per unit.

    So bands who are focussing on touring, and merchandising, and the different revenues that come with that are changing their approach to recorded music. Instead of being a cash cow itself, it’s become a way of drawing attention to the band and their different revenue streams. I mean, they still want to make money from it, of course. But I think the one certainty is that there’s always going to be a market for music. People still want to create, and there’s obviously all of us here tonight as music fans. It’s just going to be a matter of how it’s disseminated, and how it’s received. I think it’s exciting, really, that all these new models are out there, and bands are discovering that they don’t need to spend so much money to make great music. I still interview a lot of bands, though, and more often than not, they’re not spending five months in a studio, they’re doing the bulk of it at home. Costs are going down, and there’s going to be a lot of changes down the track, but I think it’s a really exciting time. Music’s going to flourish, despite what the nay-sayers say.

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    The future of music.. I don’t know, of course. But as a manager trying to help artists to flourish and survive in their careers, it’s quite true that the recording income from CD and digital sales are one or two income streams, but there’s maybe 15 or 20 income streams that flow from the recording. So how you look at it commercially is an interesting question. There is no need to despair in that sense: it’s always been tough, it’s still tough and it will be tough to make a sustainable career as an artist, but the fact that there’s a decrease in recording income shouldn’t be such a big problem.

    One of the opportunities which is here now is, because of the internet, and MySpace, and Facebook et cetera, is the ability to create communities around your band. And this suits some bands better than others, but I think it’s worth thinking about. A great example is a Brisbane band called The Red Paintings, who I’m sure you all know. One of the strong things about the band, outside of the music, is that Trash, the band leader, has a very defined, strong philosophy of what the entire act is about. And I think that’s very interesting. He understands it so well that when he talks to you, you’ll get it when speaking with him for two minutes. I spoke to him briefly on a telephone call and he explained to me that, with his live shows, the philosophy is that it’s about being able to express yourself creatively and freely, without hurting anybody. So that’s the essence behind his whole live show. When you go to a Red Paintings show, you’re allowed to paint, and have a lot of fun, and do things that you’re not allowed to do normally, but you can do it at a Red Paintings show.

    Now, with that, he’s actually developed a community of people that subscribe to more than just the music. They subscribe to this philosophy that he’s espousing. I don’t know if you know this, but for his last record, he put out to his fans that if they put in $40, they’d get their name on the CD. So a thousand people theoretically put in $40, and he raised $40,000 to fund his own CD independently through that. [Andrew's note: individuum's Academy Of Dreams sponsored $25,000 of the $40,000 total]. I think that’s just something to think about: you [the musician] have the ability to create a community.

    The other thing that’s interesting is that the notion of status in our society is changing a lot. Status symbols used to be – I read this is a Sunday Mail article, so I don’t know how great of a reference it is – it used to be that if you had a gold Rolex watch, or a great house, that was a status that people would care about, that you’d show off to your friends. Now I think what’s happening is that status is more about the experiences that you have, and the ones that you can talk about. So if you went on a spaceship to the moon to have a party with U2, that would be something that would impress your friends, if you see what I mean.

    I think that what’s happening with festivals, why they’re succeeding so much, is that it’s not just about the music, it’s because you’ve got to tell your mates that you went to Big Day Out, or you went to Splendour [In The Grass]. It’s like a badge of honour. I think the other thing to keep thinking about is how you can create something that gives people that sense of good feeling that they experience.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Please don’t tell me that you think the future is frickin’ Twitter. Paul, where do you see the future of music going?

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility [pictured right]:

    Paul PaolielloObviously, the barrier to entry to the music industry these days is a lot lower due to technology. Anybody can get into the business, but the bottom line is still around creativity. You cut through in this industry via your creativity. If you have something special musically, it’s going to cut through, but also in terms of reaching your fans; these days, it is about getting creative around building those communities, as the other guys have been saying. So the approach to this business, or career that you take, or this art form that you’ve embraced around music – it is more of a business, and you have to embrace it. Because it is so complex.

    The exciting thing is that you can take a more ‘do it yourself’ approach with music. There are many tools out there that enable you to create music, and to connect with a fanbase. And to monetise your music, whether it is, as Rick said, coming up with an interesting concept to get your fans to help you fund an album, build an album, sell a download, build a mobile community, or whether you want to get your music on iTunes. There is no barrier to entry to getting a sales channel for your music, these days, but it really does come down to being a lot more savvy around the music industry, and how to build a career around it. And as you go, to build up as much leverage as you can around your intellectual property – your music and all the things associated around it – and obviously, the multiple revenue streams that you are driving from your music. Whether it’s your recordings, or your t-shirts, your whatever; the more leverage you have, I guess that becomes the enabler for your future relationships with the broader industry. And that’s when the major record companies come along, and they start knocking on your door, and you’re in a stronger position to decide whether you want to work with them or not.

    These days, they [major labels] are really the bank that you need to make a big hit bigger, or a big business bigger. As the guys were saying, the major record companies are trying to keep themselves afloat, so they are trying to grab hold of what everybody’s calling the 360 elements of the industry. But they don’t necessarily have the skill set, or they, like everybody else, try to get fewer people to do more work, with less skills. So it becomes a lot tougher. But if you are driving those revenue streams, and if you are in a lead position, then you are in a much stronger position to determine whether that relationship works for you, on a 360 basis. Or whether it is only 270, or 90, or 10 [degrees].

    And I guess, having left the music industry in its tradition form and gone into mobile, my feeling was that getting into digital, I needed to build my skill set around this ‘brave new world’ that digital and mobile is becoming. In the last couple of years, as Lars was saying, it really is the tip of the iceberg. As Lars was saying, it hasn’t matured in any way, shape or form. Digital is very much driven by iTunes. Mobile is very much driven by the iPhone. And with the new application landscape, it is driving what mobile is essentially going to become. And that’s the exciting part. That access to music on-the-go, and having a device that is going to be all things to you.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Okay, I’ve got to tell you that the future of music will have a lot to do with mobile handset manufacturers. I’d like to share my vision on the future of music with you, from an old fart who’s been around in the industry for 38 years. 38 years ago, when I got out of the drug trade – I mean when I got out of the fine stone trade – I was living in a small place in Atlanta, Georgia, on 14th Street, which was about one block away from Piedmont Park. One Sunday, when I woke up at about one o’clock in the afternoon, I heard this great music. I heard a guitar playing like I’d never heard, and two drummers. I walked down to the park, and there they were, in the gazebo: The Allman Brothers Band.

    They were playing every Sunday, live, free, and they were building a music community, at that time. That was almost forty years ago, and they’d been going for two years prior to that. When I was in the States last at SXSW, they did a run of the Beacon Theater in New York. They do it every year, maybe ten shows, over a two week period. And they sell out instantly, because they’ve maintained that community over many years. People believe in them, people who know their brand, wear their t-shirt, buy every single live album they ever do; they buy anything. There’s even a magazine devoted to them, called Hittin’ The Note.

    The future of music is this. I’ve experienced it and I love it. I buy music, I don’t download stuff for free. I don’t want worms, and all that other stuff [Andrew's note: he is referring to viruses]. I want either FLAC lossless, or I want 256k downloads. And I’m not going to be getting that from all of my iTunes purchases. I don’t purchase here. I don’t mind saying it: I don’t buy Australian music. Most Australian music is for you people, the younger people. The last Australian band I bought was The Greencards. I have four of their albums. Most of you wouldn’t think of them as Australian music, you’d call it ‘bluegrass’.

    Truth of the matter is, I buy about $5,000 of music each year, and it’s not just iTunes. I would love for you to go home tonight and go to a place called Munck Music [munckmusic.com]. It’s based in the US, and created by a producer and an engineer who believe that if they recorded bands and offered their live music for sale to their fanbase, they could make a lot of money. Especially if like, Little Feat, they have a hundred concerts out there. Bruce Hornsby has about 50; the entire New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has a couple of a hundred shows by artists up there. The Grateful Dead, and others [do too], including The Allman Brothers Band.

    I’ve purchased probably 20 Allman Brothers concerts, 20 Little Feat concerts, 10 Bruce Hornsby concerts, and you can get them one of three ways. CD: $14 (USD) for a concert, usually three hours’ worth. Secondly: as a 256k download. You can sample the music, you can view the setlist, so you can see and hear what you’re going to get. You can also get it as in the FLAC lossless file format, which means that it’s not ‘2 per cent milk’, like MP3s are; it’s more like ‘full-cream milk’. It takes a long time to load, and you better have a big account for it, and a large storage device. However, these bands have made a fortune from selling their own music to their own fanbase. And they also go on cruise ships, and take their fans around to Jamaica, or up and down the Mexican coast, or through the Caribbean, doing nothing but cruise ship shows, full of fans.

    The other place you’ve got to go is called Moogis [moogis.com]. It was started by The Allman Brothers’ drummer, Butch Trucks, who had an idea that when technology and downloads could meet the need for video and audio to be compressed reasonably, and give high quality, then that would be the time for a band to be able to sell a subscription to their six months of concerts, for users to pay $100 to see that show as much as they want. With backstage footage, various camera angles, and the full concert, in high definition, and with high quality audio. So Butch and the band started selling that, and I don’t know how much they’ve sold, but it’s worked for them. They’ve done extremely well.

    But to me, and you, the future of music is being able to create a brand with your band. Create an audience, and keep them as a community. Don’t ever lose that community you have ‘back home’, just because you want to go overseas and make it rich. The day you lose that is when you lose your career. [The future is] Selling your music directly to your community in any form you can, and especially if you’ve got a great song, selling it to them in ten different ways. Extended ways, mixed ways, whatever.

    The future of music is going to be about you knowing the business of music, too. Because without the business and the understanding of copyright, commerce, and a lot of other issues, you’re not going to be able to succeed. So I suggest that you line my pockets by coming to my conference, in August, because my future of music is dependent on you, too.

    The future of music of music for you [the audience] is this: get a job. Work with people who inspire you, and pay you fairly. And can give you the opportunity to do things. Don’t necessarily work for free, but ask lots of questions, take lots of notes. Watch, observe, and above all, be honest.

    What we want to do now, because you’ve been such a great audience, we want to answer any question you’ve got about the music business, or anything else you’ve got.

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility:

    Phil, just one thing. Google ‘Trent Reznor‘, because there was a case study that was done earlier this year at Midem, the music conference at Cannes that they have each year. They studied Reznor, who basically decided to revive his career, and looked at the whole digital model, and did a combination of offering his albums for free, offering limited editions, box sets, digital versions, hiding USB sticks at concerts, special versions hidden in storage drains as a treasure hunt based off his website. It’s a really interesting case study who is interested in trying to enable their fans, and keep their fanbase loyal, and building around that model.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Music should always be about discovery. Questions, please.

    [Audience Q&A section commences. It comprises four questions and is fifteen minutes in duration.]

    Question 1: Just on Trent Reznor – if you look up a Digg interview with him, he talks about his entire business model, and it’s fascinating. My question is regards to copyright law: what do you think the future is going to be? How are copyright owners going to enforce their copyright? Will it go more toward the Creative Commons?

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    They can take my copyright pen out of my dead hand, clutching it to the very bitter end. I’m gonna fight for copyright. Look, I have intellectual property. It’s boring, but it’s very lucrative, and my intellectual property has nothing to do with songs. I think copyright will continue to evolve, but unfortunately it will evolve very slowly, and far behind the ability for people to steal. Just like they haven’t figured out a way to stop people shoplifting yet, have they. Paul?

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility:

    Yeah, I was just going to say the same thing. The minute you open that door, the floodgates open, so they’ll never be able to move with the times. Country by country, it’s going to be different. That’s where a lot of the ISPs are getting frustrated, the Yahoos and Googles of the world, because they’re saying “well, cross-border, we’re trying to do this as a global thing, to try and clear copyright across borders, but we just can’t do it”. It’s still remaining territorial. Some territories are going to be more open to change than others. Here in Australia, they’ve been trying to change the law the for a while, and the cogs are still turning.

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    I’ll jump in here. I think that Creative Commons is a wonderful opt-in solution for people who want to allow anyone to use copyright. When the music industry initially shut down Napster, we saw Lars Ulrich speaking on the movie earlier. He made himself an enemy to a lot of people worldwide who wanted to use Napster to disseminate their music. So that a kid in Atlanta could be heard by someone in Peru. There are now platforms which allow you to do that, but I think that Creative Commons underwrites that, and enables people to create that copyright.

    But coming right back, absolutely, I don’t think copyright rules will change any quicker than snail’s pace, but anyone who has a vision and wants to create, should have the right to patent it and receive royalties, at least while they’re walking on this planet.

    Question 2: Do any of you have any concept – because I know it’s variable – just roughly what artists are getting percentage-wise for music downloads? Is there some ballpark figure to get ideas?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    If you sell music on iTunes, they’ll take their cut, which is 30%. And then the distributor will take their cut – typically between 20-25%. And then the artist gets the rest, so in the case of an iTunes sale, the artist will receive 70 or 80 cents per song. Which is actually quite good, because there’s nothing physical that’s being created, and you’re getting this invisible sale. The latest statistics show that only 5% of music online is bought, and the other 95% is ‘taken’.

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    We also have to look around at other ways of generating alternative revenue streams. There’s a fascinating case going on at the moment with YouTube, the user-generated content platform, and some of the major record labels who’ve nixed any of their content that’s available on YouTube. Warner Music‘s one of them. So we’re looking at transactions on iTunes as one way to make money, but in the years ahead, if your music is being used on these user-generated content platforms, you ought to – in theory – earn a cut of advertising revenue on that platform. This space is changing; there is money to be collected out there, but it gets very confusing, and very complex.

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility:

    Just on that, Gavin from Sony BMG often quotes a Justin Timberlake cases. When they brought out his last album, they found about 120 revenue streams for that album, at last count. So from a ringtone to a full track download, to a YouTube revenue stream, to an online radio stream, to a CD sale, and so forth, there was 120 different revenue streams, for that one release. And that was a couple of years ago, so these days, it’s probably even greater.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    The other side of the equation is – to answer your question more directly – it depends on how smart or stupid you’re going to be in assigning your music to someone to sell it. We use the term ‘aggregator'; these are people who take your music and place it on a variety of different sale sites. Some of them take a very small amount, such as Tunecore, who charge a flat fee to put the music up; they don’t take a percentage. Whereas others charge large fees and take large percentages, and don’t necessarily always report to you. There’s CDBaby, for example, which has been around for a while, and IODA, and Amphead.. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Australian alternative. The Orchard.. I’m ambivalent [toward them]. But the thing is, there’s a lot of people waiting to rip you off, just like there was with the compilation scams of many years ago. “Get yourself on a CD that we send around to all the A&R people, for a fee.” Be very aware that if people are trying to charge you a fee to put your music up on iTunes or wherever, you should very carefully check into them. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier these days to find out.

    Question 3: Something the film didn’t really didn’t cover is the role of the ISPs. I know from conversations that I’ve had with people from APRA, and that sort of thing, that they are trying to negotiate with ISPs to come up with a solution to this. What are your thoughts on the role of the ISPs in Australia?

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    We understanding of the argument is that ISPs are the ones who are getting the benefit of all the music being there – people going there [online], and getting free music – and of course the ISPs are getting their subscription. And the value of that subscription is incredibly valuable, given that you can get a whole lot of free music by going online. One solution that’s being offered up is that the ISPs are forced, in some ways, through some legislative creation, to track all of the downloads, including the free ones, and somehow compensate the artists. Similarly to the way APRA does, through the form of either radio or live [performance royalty fees]. This is just one of the possible solutions that are there; whether it will go down that way, is questionable.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    APRA is a great organisation that has done an incredible amount for the music industry, from bringing court cases and seeking judgements from tribunals, and increasing the amount of money that is paid to the composers, the songwriters, and their publishers. It’s a shame that the PPCA [Phonographic Performance Company of Australia] and ARIA [Australian Recording Industry Association] haven’t had the vision, the forethought, or the ability to do much more than ‘sweet FA’. As a result, fortunately, composers, songwriters and their publishers get paid. Artists often do not. And one of the interesting points that’s raised about this is that with all that money that was awarded to the record industry on the Kazaa case, the $54 million: artists didn’t see that money, and they won’t ever. One more question.

    Question 4: Okay, just before when you were talking about the royalties, about how artists generally get nothing, and where they’re making their money is through live performance.. why should we really care that we’re downloading their music for free, and giving it to other people? I would not know half of the artists that I know through free downloads, if it wasn’t available to me for free, because I wouldn’t be able to afford to go out to the stores and buy it.

    So in essence, when I’m giving all my free downloads to my friends, and the ‘word of mouth’ thing is working, and we’re all going out to the live performance when they come to town, and there’s more requests for them to play because we’ve had that whole word of mouth.. why should we really care if we’re really giving our money back to our artists anyway? Aren’t we kind of bypassing giving our money to the corporations and the record labels, by not buying their CDs?

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    I heard it best said that “you may consider yourself to be an auto-enthusiast, because you like fast cars. But when you decide to steal that car, you are a thief.” And it’s not necessarily going to enrich General Motors, Porsche, or whatever, that you decided to steal that car. Now, what you just said made a lot of sense. A lot of people who download music do buy it. They do discover it that way. However, I really don’t believe that people like you are gonna be that generous when it comes to actually paying for things.

    Now, the same people who download music [for free] are the same people who try to get into clubs for free – get on the ‘free list’ – and stand outside the fence at Splendour In The Grass. The same sort of people who want to wear a phony t-shirt of a band, because it costs a lot less than the real thing. I do take your point that you are trying to discover music, and hopefully it [Andrew's note: money, presumably] will reach the band. But I’ve been in this business a long time. I don’t see anybody out there who does ‘sonic shoplifting’ that really thinks altruistically about ‘the brothers’ in the bands.

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    I agree, and I’ll add to that. What you’re saying is that it’s actually not bad for the bands, because by allowing it to be free, you’re actually discovering the bands and therefore, you can love them and maybe go and see a live show, et cetera. And so you’re saying therefore, it’s okay. But it’s got to be the artist’s choice that it happens that way. You’re still taking something which they’ve created and paid for, and put time and work into, like anybody doing anything. And for example, you might discover that music on MySpace, which the artist chooses to allow to be free; [to be] streamed, not to be stolen of off. You can learn about the artist through five or six songs; I know in The Boat People’s case, we’ve got five or six songs up there from the last two albums, so there’s a bit of a mix to get to know the band. You could listen to it all day long, and get to know the band, and want to go and see them live. And if you loved them enough, you’d actually have to have that CD.

    As an independent band, we’re losing that opportunity, and I don’t see it [inaudible]. I’d hate to come across as a moralist, but I have a problem that what’s being lost in the whole conversation is that it’s now being said that, because it’s easy to do, and everybody’s doing it, it’s ‘okay’. So it’s like, nobody’s saying to a young person, “look, this person actually toiled, they put their work into it, their effort into it, therefore they actually have value in it, and therefore to enjoy that, you need to actually trade for it”.

    Now it’s being said that because it’s so easy and because it’s so bloody hard to do anything about it, it’s ‘okay’. So, to me it’s not all about criminalisation, because I think that’s a waste of time, to sue some individual teenager for downloading a song. But it’s more about conscience. It’s more about, you know, when they asked the people in the movie, “who downloads music for free?” and all of their hands went up, and then they asked, “who thinks they stole the music?”, or did something wrong, and it was only one out of a hundred.

    See, I know about this a lot better than anyone, because when I was a teenager I used to record tapes. I used to do that, because I really wanted the music [from the radio], and I didn’t have enough money to get it. But I knew that it was wrong, and I did feel a little bit like my conscience was saying “this is not quite right”. I feel that we’re eventually going to the lose the consciousness of taking something from another person, and that’s the part that disturbs me.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Great, that was perfect. I have one other thing to say. It’s kind of like: if you think you can get somebody drunk enough at a bar that they’ll screw you because they have no more control over themselves, that’s about the same way that I equate the moral ability to download music. Because you think you’re going to give somebody else a good time. That was a good one, wasn’t it? (laughs)

    [Audience Q&A session ends.]

    Download Phil Tripp’s introductory speech
    Download the panel discussion (I transcribed from 26th minute until the 67th minute)
    Download the Q&A session

    The film will screen in Brisbane at UQ‘s Schonell Theatre from June 4, 2009.

  • Hi, I’m Andrew

    I’ve been hesitant to press ‘publish’ of late.

    There’s so much bullshit flying around the whole marketing/social media fields that it’s temporarily killed my interest in both.

    Twitter has started to become more of a hindrance than a help, wherein the benefits of constantly monitoring my channel is increasingly outweighed by the cost. The Dunbar effect in action: following >150 people = discontent.

    But staring too deeply into the web’s bottomless pit can cause a loss of focus. It’s time to step back.

    My reality is this: I recently quit my job to focus on projects that interest me.

    I’m studying my final course toward a Bachelor of Communication. It’s a creative writing elective. It interests me greatly, as I’ve rarely dabbled in fiction or narrative writing.

    Incredibly, I look forward to class each week. Can’t say that I’ve felt excitement toward university very often as an undergraduate.

    This is the narrative introduction I used during the first creating writing tutorial:

    Andrew has stretched his three-year Bachelor of Communication into four years, in order to latch onto the Australian myth of tertiary education for as long as possible.

    This course was chosen as an elective because Andrew has always avoided writing fiction, but he has decided that 2009 is the year for trying new things.

    This yearning for new experiences is the reason why Andrew quit his first real job yesterday, and is also the reason why Andrew is travelling to Japan in June, although he does not know Japanese.

    Andrew is extremely fond of music and writes for two local publications – Rave and 4T – and one national website called FasterLouder.

    Andrew wrote and spoke this introduction in third person because he really likes the sound of his name.

    Such introductions are always interesting to write and speak, as one tries to find the balance between fact, humour, and appearing clever. Everyone wants to appear clever, always. Wit as a currency.

    2009_bioThis is the reason why my current bio [pictured right] makes me look like an asshole, although when I wrote it last year, I thought I was being clever.

    I’ve worked reasonably hard to keep this blog ‘clean’. Professional-like. I carefully consider everything that’s shared on here; whether it’s appropriate, whether it’ll reflect well on my character. Whether I’ll appear clever.

    I could trace this moderated perfectionism – which is perhaps dangerous and restrictive in itself – to the enormous amount of time I spent on video game message boards throughout my youth, effectively sharing my life with a bunch of strangers.

    Call it mature, call it neurotic, call it overly analytical. Or all three.

    The point is that since I want to be known as a writer, I need to improve my ability to articulate and share my thoughts.

    To this end, self-administered publishing filters aren’t very helpful.

    So I’m going to attempt to reduce their influence on my psychology.

    It’d be awesome if you could help me out, by calling me out on any unjustified or unclear bullshit.

    Hi, I’m Andrew.